Imagine you know something. It’s something explosive, something the public ought urgently to know. Let’s say the state is being undermined from within- either by regular ole corruption, or by infiltration by a hostile external group.
Now, imagine you hold the evidence to prove this explosive fact. It’s on a USB stick (that’s how vast infodumps come, these days). You want to deliver it to a media outlet so they can alert the public. But you don’t know any journalists- you didn’t go to school or college with them. So, you can’t know who-if anyone- you can trust with your identity.
You work inside the system, you know its quirks and foibles and if you’re identified as the source of the leaks you’re afraid you’ll be identified and victimised (or worse. Don’t forget, we’re just imagining here.). Maybe you remember that Geraldine Kennedy, the former Editor of the Irish Times just this year said she feared for her life during the phone-tapping affair.
“I took the precaution to ask George Colley, the senior Fianna Fáil adversary of Mr Haughey, if he would come to see where I lived. He did. I told him that if I ever went missing to search the river Liffey and if I were found there I hadn’t gone voluntarily, because I didn’t swim.”
You realise you can’t just email the data in the clear. You can’t even contact a journalist in the clear. You need to contact a news outlet that can receive encrypted emails.
You look at the contact pages of The Irish Times, The Irish Independent, The Irish Examiner and RTE. You see no sign any of them use the PGP (or GPG, its free open source equivalent) system to protect sources. Nor do any of them seem to run a secure DeadDrop system to receive leaks from whistleblowers, like the New Yorker magazine. That’s free and open source too. But they just don’t seem to have bothered to set up the basics of receiving information in a way that protects their sources.
Perhaps, you think to yourself as you look at the USB key in your hand, they would prefer not to know.
Photo by Anthony Catalano, used under cc licence