For my story in this week’s magazine, I spent nine days reporting in Azerbaijan, where the government is famous for conducting surveillance on journalists. A reporter who had worked in the country told me to assume that the government was eavesdropping on all of my conversations and would likely place cameras in my hotel room. A few years ago, security services installed a camera in the bedroom of the Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova, and released video of her in an intimate act with a boyfriend.
My wife and I came up with code words so I could let her know if she needed to call the U.S. Embassy or my editor. I left my iPhone at home. In Azerbaijan, I got two cell phones. One was officially registered to me; the other was purchased for me by a local contact. I turned off the official phone and took out the battery when I visited sources, because I had heard that the intelligence service would likely track my movements through my phone. I had oddly polite conversations with my wife every day. I used the encrypted app Signal to send messages and make calls.
When I met Ismayilova, who has spent time in jail and been monitored by the government for many years, I explained all my precautions. She laughed. She said she doesn’t bother anymore. I was relieved, because I realized that when I went to her house I had forgotten to take precautions, and had left the battery in my official phone. –Adam Davidson