StoryMaker Reduces Threats to Citizen Journalists

In the fast paced, ever-changing world of citizen activism, timely on-the-ground media coverage of critical events increasingly depends on stories produced by citizen journalists. These are often the authors who are uniquely positioned to capture the photos and video footage of events as they happen and transmit that information globally from their mobile phones. Unfortunately, as citizen journalists witness and report stories, they become frequent targets of violence and surveillance.

Fortunately, there are tools that can reduce the threat of such surveillance. One such tool is StoryMaker, an open-source mobile phone application that allows journalists to capture, edit, and share their stories online. StoryMaker also includes a training curriculum on journalism and mobile security, helping citizen journalists improve their skills and understand the risks they may face. The curriculum can be downloaded inside StoryMaker over a secure Tor-enabled connection.

StoryMaker is integrated with Orbot, an app that secures Internet traffic by routing it through the Tor network on Android devices. StoryMaker’s integration with Orbot works even if your device has not been rooted. StoryMaker also allows you to utilize an Android library of protocols and certificates that add anonymity and encrypt traffic.

A new version of StoryMaker was launched in July 2014 with added features to include in-app support for uploading stories to Facebook, Flickr, Soundcloud, and private SSH servers securely. By employing these features, the app aims to preserve the privacy and anonymity of citizen journalists.

StoryMaker was developed by an open-source collaboration between Small World News, the Guardian Project, Free Press Unlimited, and Scal.io – together known as the StoryMaker Coalition. With the support of a small grant from the ISC Project, the StoryMaker Coalition integrated the popular Obscuracam app with StoryMaker. ObscuraCam allows you to edit your photos in order to conceal the faces of certain individuals on them.

While StoryMaker transmits data in an encrypted format, audio, video, and photo files have to be stored on an external memory card unencrypted. In order to address this vulnerability, the StoryMaker Coalition have been working on adapting IOCipher, a framework that allows developers to create virtual encrypted storage, for use as an in-app file system. In experiments, StoryMaker developers have been able to achieve complete end-to-end encryption of image files. Through the integration of expanded IOCipher functionality, photos are encrypted as they are taken and stored securely in the app. The StoryMaker Coalition is extending its work on securely storing media with ongoing research on a new secure file creation process.

Beyond security initiatives, the StoryMaker Coalition has made great strides in extending the StoryMaker app’s accessibility. StoryMaker now supports 10 different languages (English, French, Arabic, Croatian/Bosnian, Serbian, Spanish, Persian, German, Macedonian, and Korean). The StoryMaker Coalition’s efforts to create a robust tool for citizen journalists are ongoing, and its developers are currently working toward a solution for end-to-end encryption for video, audio, and slideshow media. StoryMarker is currently available for the Android operating system.

You can download the latest version of StoryMaker from the Google Play store here. More cutting-edge, but unstable builds are available here.