I had originally planned for my next post to be about further protecting your online experience with two-factor authentication. While I still plan to cover that topic in the near future, recent actions by the White House prompted me to jump ahead to a more advanced topic.
In the first few weeks of the new President’s term, his administration made it ever more clear that it considered the Press to be the enemy, and in recent days took actions like this and this to limit the latter’s ability to fully perform its duty to the American people. I hope that the following information will prove useful to any readers who may be in a position to report on or research sensitive or controversial subjects, and allow them to do it to the best of their ability.
In order for the American press to perform its Constitutionally protected work completely and without bias, two things must be ensured: first, the freedom to do research without fear of censorship or retribution; and second, the protection of anonymous sources. Without these things, no story can be considered complete, and the cost is the truth.
Technologies exist to combat both of these potential obstacles.
First, the Tor browser allows a researcher to browse to any site on the Internet while at the same time masking both the source and destination addresses from prying eyes. Traffic at an Internet site cannot be traced back to a specific individual while they are using Tor, and furthermore, if a person’s Internet activity is being monitored, the watcher will not be able to see what sites they visit. This technology has proven very beneficial to users in nation states that monitor or restrict Internet activity.
The second is encrypted communication, which provides the ability to securely communicate with other individuals electronically while protecting the message content and the parties involved. This can be in the form of encrypted email, or secure messaging for mobile devices which can be used for secure chats and calls.
EFF.org has compiled an excellent set of instructions for configuring and using many forms of encrypted communication. (They also provide an essential guide to protecting personal information for anyone that may be attending a political protest.)
It should be noted that these technologies are not without controversy. Encryption and anonymizing tools can of course be used for evil as well as good. The needs of law enforcement are at constant odds with the rights of privacy when criminals take advantage of Constitutional protections for their own illicit practices. However, the nature of encryption is that it cannot be weakened without compromising the entire structure. There is no way to provide a “back door” that can only be used by law enforcement despite what some lawmakers believe. These tools are a weapon of freedom used by repressed people all over the world, and have proven themselves under fascist regimes.
The current administration needs to realize that criticism is not “fake news.” Freedom of the press is guaranteed under the Constitution for a reason. The Founding Fathers strongly believed that the most powerful check against those in charge of our country is an informed public. Attempting to silence the press sends a dangerous message that the Administration has something to hide. We need the press more than ever, and they need to be allowed to perform their job to the best of their ability. Anonymous sources are not a cop-out. They provide a way to get the honest truth from someone who might otherwise feel compelled to keep quiet.
The tools I mentioned here allow them to do just that. If you are one of those people, I applaud your efforts and hope that this information is helpful to you.