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Introducing the TGM SecureDrop Vault

Today The Global Mail introduces a new, secure way for sources to work with our journalists to expose wrongdoing. The TGM Vault is powered by SecureDrop, “an open-source whistleblower submission system”, managed by Freedom of the Press Foundation. The Vault is a discreet, private place to share information the public has a right to know about; think of it as the digital age equivalent of the parking garage where Bob Woodward met Deep Throat. It’s the most sophisticated of many ways sources can communicate with The Global Mail.

The SecureDrop system is also behind both The New Yorker’s Strongbox and ForbesSafeSource. It’s a powerful encryption network that allows media organisations to securely accept documents from anonymous sources. We are proud to be the third media organisation – and the first outside the US – to incorporate this critical tool.

The code for SecureDrop was originally written by the late Aaron Swartz, a 26-year-old computer programmer and open-government activist who – facing prosecution for downloading paywalled academic research articles – committed suicide a year ago today, January 11, 2013. In creating SecureDrop, Swartz was assisted by Wired editor Kevin Poulsen and security expert James Dolan, who has continued to refine the program’s code with the Freedom of the Press Foundation. The Foundation continually audits and tests SecureDrop’s security.

The Freedom of the Press Foundation exists to defend and support “aggressive, public-interest journalism focused on exposing mismanagement, corruption, and law-breaking in government”.

Such stop-the-rot journalism makes a difference; some stories – think Pentagon Papers, WikiLeaks cables, the Abu Ghraib prison photos, Edward Snowden’s NSA surveillance revelations – change the world’s power dynamics.

Such stories come to light when people inside corporations, governments or other powerful groups help journalists expose how the system was breaking down. Courageous sources get evidence to journalists about stories large and small. At TGM we’re committed to protecting our sources, keeping them safe and their identities unknown.

So the TGM SecureDrop Vault is a new channel for receiving information, which allows us to leverage the power of the internet for the public’s interest.

This is new technology, but not a new concern for democracy. The ancient Greeks had a term, parrhesia, often crudely translated as “free speech”. But the 20th century French intellectual Michel Foucault explained it as:

“To say everything – from pan (everything) and rhema (that which is said).”

At The Global Mail, we believe this freedom should hold for modern societies as well. Too often though, present-day parrhesiastes are threatened by the powers that be.

That’s why we’ve set up TGM’s SecureDrop Vault.

The Global Mail has reported on the warrantless surveillance now routinely carried out on Australians, and investigative journalist Ross Coulthart has described for us how whistleblowers and journalists alike must be careful to protect the source of any information. The vault isn’t the only way to communicate with The Global Mail without jeopardising your privacy or anonymity; we have published some guidelines to help you identify the channel that fits your circumstances.

Why TGM and FPF Are Doing This

Neither source nor journalist can expect information about our phones or emails to be private any longer. It’s increasingly difficult to find a truly anonymous email address or cell phone. More importantly, third-party phone providers store all sorts of identifying metadata, sometimes for years, and email providers do the same plus also store the content of your emails. Sources have increasingly been prosecuted in recent years because these third-party email and phone providers can hand over all this information to the government without a media organization finding out until it’s too late.

Worse, even when email providers do not hand data over to the government, the recent NSA revelations have shown, intelligence agencies have attempted to tap the data streams and directly access message content.

The Freedom of the Press Foundation, launched just over a year ago, was originally inspired by the financial blockade of WikiLeaks – when Visa, MasterCard and PayPal buckled to government pressure, to financially censor WikiLeaks for publishing what it considered damaging information.

“What happened with WikiLeaks was terribly unjustand we wanted to make sure that couldn’t happen to another organisation in the future,” says Foundation executive director Trevor Timm. “Since then there have been a lot of other press-freedom issues that have bubbled up on the internet as well.”

Since it began the Foundation has crowd-sourced donations and used them in various ways to enhance transparency: to hire court stenographers for the Chelsea Manning trial (allowing the shut-out media transcripts from which they could report the proceedings); to help fund independent investigative journalism (including TGM partner the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists); and to support encryption and security initiatives .

“In 2014 our big mission is digital security around journalism, and talking to sources and trying to create a systematic training program for journalists to learn how to use encryption tools so their emails and phone records aren't subpoenaed by prosecutors and their sources don't end up in jail,” Timm says.

“Our goal is to have [SecureDrop] in a dozen or two dozen major news organisations in the next year,” says Timm, calling TGM “exactly the type of model we like to see and support”.

As surveillance by governments – including that of Australia, where The Global Mail is based – becomes wider-reaching, citizens’ ability to speak freely without taking on personal risk is more important than ever.

“It's clear this is a way for sources to get their information into journalists,” Timm says, “and given that the climate of surveillance is so intense at the moment, we hope [SecureDrop will be] a small way of tilting the scales back towards journalists being able to talk to sources without worry that the source or the journalist will be prosecuted.”

How the TGM SecureDrop Vault Works

SecureDrop works like this: Say you have evidence of wrongdoing committed by corporations, government, or other organisations. You can begin the secure whistleblower process by using Tor, an internet browser that masks your IP address, allowing you to keep your location and identity anonymous. (So, as you will see from our step-by-step instructions, your first step will be to download Tor, for free.)

After you upload the file it will be encrypted and stored on the TGM SecureDrop Vault server until our journalists download and decrypt it. TGM SecureDrop Vault does not log any identifying metadata and both journalists and sources are encouraged to regularly delete messages, so there won’t be any trail left behind even if someone wants to find it.

If we find evidence that we can act on, we’ll initiate an investigation into what we’ve seen. Importantly, the TGM SecureDrop Vault also allows us to maintain communication with the original sender, to verify the information or otherwise follow up.

While no system can provide perfect security, all these added layers make SecureDrop much more secure than the channels we normally use to communicate digitally, if also less convenient. SecureDrop aims for ease of use; it is still decidedly more involved than sending an e-mail – but in some cases it’s worth the extra effort.

Check it out here.

13 comments on this story
by rupa

You are one of the best!

January 11, 2014 @ 10:20am
by Mahler

Excellent move from TGM. Be may be towed out to sea...

January 11, 2014 @ 11:13am
by Just William

The creeping and insidious control by Corporations and powerful individuals leaves me and I dare say many others with the feeling of despair and hopelessness.
We have at the moment the references to the fact it is 50 years since the recognition smoking is and has been a very dangerous pastime and Tobacco Companies were aware of it.
So with the Government we now have and their determination to have religion foremost in the education system and the history of that mentality I expect secrecy and disinformation to be a matter of course. (ABC 24 interview today Sat 11th Jan 14. one of the two "Catholic" reviewers of Education Curriculum by Minister Pyne.)
This is probably the most dangerous Government Australia has had and one with no vision just an Ideology, driven by narrow conservative and reactionary beliefs.

January 11, 2014 @ 12:18pm
by Born-again Atheist

Totally agree with you Just William - and more. I am on my 78th trip around the Sun. Many absolutely awful Oz political regimes have come and gone in my lifetime - including Bjelke-Peterson - but this ideological combo of ignorant right wing politicians+religious ideologues+insatiably greedy capitalists will prove to be the most heartless, amoral and wicked that we have had since Yr. 1901.
My consolation is that a world-famous Oz scientist named Frank Fenner - our national Academy of Science named a Faculty of Science after him - stated before his death in Yr. 2012 that homo sapiens will be extinct by the end of this century because we are past the tipping point on Climate Change and farmers globally are increasingly unable to grow enough of our staple foods.
Market disputes, even wars, about control of production+supply of staple foods will soon escalate - regardless of the pronouncements of the ignorant nay-sayers in this dreadful regime.
The human species will soon be extinct - and that is good news for every other species on Earth.

January 11, 2014 @ 1:49pm
by S. Ja

You know I could of called this. Which brings my other assumption into play. Thank you, very moving.

January 11, 2014 @ 1:54pm
by Hemsley

Congratulations and many thanks TGM for this new portal.
I don't have any tidbits just a the the moment.
But further to the comments, I am trying to get the word 'corporofascism' entered into the Macquarie Dictionary. I first submitted the word - with what I regard as credible references and sources with which to cross-reference - about two years ago.
I received a 'thank-you we will get back to you' response, but nothing since. The word remains unknown and-or unheard of.
But corporofascism is what has the planet by the proverbials.
It is as the name suggests - fascism driven by corporatisation. Governments in what's left of the western world are not 'democratic'. They are corporofascists whose raison detre is corporofascism. Everything from schools and universities to cinemas and local councils - EVERYTHING - is now driven by the imperative to cut costs (corporofascism) pure and simple. The rest is history being written, mainly on the internet.
Corporofascism includes what I believe will be the lesson we as a species, and specifically this generation, will learn to our ultimate cost - that there is a finite limit to the number of times history can repeat itself.
The first and best reference of many that I provided to the editors of the 'Big Mac', was Sydney playwright Bob Ellis whose book, 'The Capitalism Delusion' (Penguin) included this phrase:
'(C)apitalism is the kissing cousin of fascism.'
Now it's everywhere. Euphemistically, when the mainstream media still regarded it as a novelty, it was called globalisation.
It's makes good people bad and screws the also-rans.
TGM's new portal is brilliant. Whistleblowers are heroes. Statues should be erected for them and they should be given free lunches for the rest of their lives.

January 11, 2014 @ 4:53pm
by John Bryson.

A fine and courageous move by TGM and FPF. I thank you both. If I could think of some way in which I could help, I would offer it.

January 11, 2014 @ 4:57pm
by Dennis Bauer

Thank you TGM and FPF i am not religious, but i cannot find any other word than evil to describe what one set of humans in power is doing to another group of humans, it as though civilization has gone mad. I always thought that fascism was the state run by corporations, also nazi died in the second world war but fascism has just grown and grown.

January 11, 2014 @ 10:39pm
by Woodypear

All credit to you. I think the word is "accountability". It's not 'dobbing' - it's defending what is right and disclosing what is wrong.

January 12, 2014 @ 2:11am
by Jim Fitzgerald

This is a great initiative by TGM and FPF and it deserves to be disseminated.

January 12, 2014 @ 12:52pm
Show previous 10 comments
by Roberta McNair

You don't have to be religious to believe in evil, Dennis. It IS evil. It is the purposeful harming of individuals or groups that have the greater good as their goal in their activism or simply their activities. When those working toward the greater good become a threat to the power elite--governments, corporations, intelligence agencies--the gloves come off. They will do anything to anyone to keep, enhance, and increase their power. They believe that there is a finite amount of power, so if the people want to protest their loss of rights, the degradation of the environment, the tremendous gaps in economic status and opportunities, or any other of the abuses we all suffer at the hands of the power elite, this is seen as taking power from those who rule. This direct threat to is met with everything from intimidation to incarceration and death.

Spying--both government and corporate, because the distinction becomes hard to make when NSA contracting companies can use intel for their own ends--is an insidious and far-reaching tool. Dis- and misinformation from a media that lets itself be co-opted for the chance at real power--as the carrot of power is dangled over these ambitious and morally bankrupt pundits--does the work of keeping the masses from having to recognize what's happening to them. Rapacious corporate practices--risking the very life of the planet to increase their wealth and power--keeps people frightened and overwhelmed, because at the same time these corporations have used the government to dismantle workers' protections that evened the playing field.

If all that isn't evil, I don't know what is. Outright murder isn't as evil, in my mind, because it's at least open and honest in its performance and its goals.

January 12, 2014 @ 1:26pm
by Gabe78

This is awesome. Really a good jon.

January 13, 2014 @ 1:19am
by Anne Coombs

SecureDrop, and similar, are great tributes and a continuing legacy to the groundbreaking work of Aaron Swartz.

January 13, 2014 @ 9:24am
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