The media has been buzzing in recent days surrounding the Department of Justice’s obtaining phone records from Associated Press journalists in secret and political groups being targeted by the IRS for their affiliation with right-wing-sounding names. It has been a long time since the impression that it’s best to keep quiet if you know about something that needs to be exposed has had such a concrete basis to support it.
How can someone come forward securely? How can someone protect themselves from the potential public scrutiny and privacy invasion that can come from releasing information others would rather wasn’t released? (See Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, and others).
To respond to the problem of traceable leaks, Kevin Poulsen asked Aaron Swartz to build an anonymous email system that would help protect the identities of those wishing to provide tips and communicate with journalists more freely, according to the New Yorker. The project was finished only one month before Swartz’s unfortunate suicide with the blessing of his estate, says the article.
According to the site, “Strongbox is a new way for you to share information, messages and files with our writers and editors and is designed to provide you with a greater degree of anonymity and security than afforded by conventional e-mail.” (emphasis mine).
“Great degree of anonymity” rings out like an echo from the world we’re barrelling towards as recent events support that no security or privacy can be completely guaranteed anymore. The same tools that can be used by groups like Anonymous to great effect can be used by other, more nefarious or more misguided, institutions to expose the identities of insiders. It’s a problem that many in tech circles have been aware of for sometime. Privacy and security are not equivalent. A platform can guarantee security and that’s its job. Privacy is the responsibility of the individual.
That’s the world Swartz, The New Yorker, Anonymous, Reddit (which Swartz helped build), and the rest of us live in. The tao of the emerging digital world will perhaps be one that Eric Schmidt said best, “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”
Joshua is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire.