Can you truly hide your identity these days?
Like everyone else, I’m curious to learn the author of the now infamous New York Times anonymous op-ed. (Analysis from Slate and the BBC are fun to read.) Others can jump into the mud pit to wrestle over whether the author is a patriot or a coward. I’m interested in how one actually remains anonymous in the digital age.
According to some, the op-ed author approached the Times through an intermediary, and his or her identity was confirmed by the paper. However, if you wanted to get sensitive or confidential information to an outlet like the Times, could you do it and remain anonymous?
You can go right to the media outlets for answers. The Times, Associated Press, Bloomberg, Forbes, NPR,Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and USA Today, among others, offer ways to send a confidential news tip. SecureDrop and old-fashioned postal mail are the most common, but here are a few options:
1. Consider encrypted email. It’s “pretty good.”
Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) is an encryption software that allows you to send encrypted emails and documents. You will need client software or a browser extension, such as the Chrome extension Mailvelope, to send the message. The extension encrypts the content of the message, but not the identity of the sender, recipient, subject line or the time and date when it was sent. If you use PGP encryption, you will need the media outlet’s “fingerprint” key, which is a long string of alphanumeric characters.
2. There’s an app (or two) for that.
WhatsApp, Peerio and Signal are free messaging apps that allow end-to-end encryption. All have slightly different sets of features but will typically enable you to exchange files, messages and make calls confidentially. WhatsApp is owned by Facebook, which might raise some eyebrows from the overly cautious. Signal’s developer has posted extensive details about how it responds to requests from the U.S. government. It says it collects very little about its users, and messages exchanged within the app can be set to automatically “disappear.”
3. Go “dark” with SecureDrop.
SecureDrop is an open-source whistleblower submission system that media organizations can use to securely accept documents from and communicate with anonymous sources. A dark web program, SecureDrop requires that you download and install the Tor browser from TorProject.org. Ideally, you should connect from public Wi-Fi or from somewhere that is not your home or office. SecureDrop submissions are entirely encrypted and do not include any identifying metadata.
4. Keep it old school.
Postal mail is still one of the best tools protecting your privacy. Eliminate your digital trail completely by writing your anonymous op-ed on a computer not connected to the internet (or on a typewriter or longhand on a legal pad) and send it via postal mail. Drop it in a mailbox in the next town over for added security.
Many news outlets have processes in place to anonymously and confidentially send information, so if secrecy is required, you still have options to get your message out there.
John P. David is the president of the David PR Group.