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Using Technology to Protect Anonymous Sources?

Cliff posted more than 9 years ago | from the empowering-the-4th-estate dept.

Privacy 450

A not-so Anonymous Anonymous Coward asks: "The New York Times has a story describing how newspapers are looking for new ways to hide the identities of anonymous sources from prosecutors. This seems like a something the Slashdot crowd might know something about. How can a newspaper setup an IT system that completely hides every trace (including emails, phone calls notes, logs and so forth) of an anonymous source's identity?"

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VPM (1)

warlock71 (664855) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225180)

Simple solution...very powerful magnets!

how about... (1)

alexandreracine (859693) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225287)

How about these two lines?

cat /proc/random >> /mail/source
cat /dev/null >> /mail/source

(repeat and rince a couple of time)

Something like that...

Re:VPM (1)

sirkarmabad (904524) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225299)

me doggie eat uber powerful magnets

first post (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13225183)

FP!!!

Regarding Portable HDs (1)

BobPaul (710574) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225185)

For Time, the purpose of giving portable hard drives to reporters would be to transfer to the reporter ownership - and responsibility - for notes. That would reduce the onus on the company, leaving the reporter to decide how far to go with a personal act of civil disobedience. Some other publications also see the wisdom in this approach.

If portable HDs are used, it might not be a bad idea to encrypt them with something like TrueCrypt [truecrypt.org] . A reported could even include a Hidden volume and tell the government/whoever that they haven't gotten around to actually using that particular drive yet.

Re:Regarding Portable HDs (1)

Raistlin77 (754120) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225249)

Like they would believe that one... "Yeah, I just carry it because I am supposed to, but I really haven't used it." Come on. If they are interested enough to look at the blank volume, they WILL find the hidden one.

Re:Regarding Portable HDs (1)

BobPaul (710574) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225291)

Good luck. Take a peak at the technology...

It's not called a Hidden Volume because it can be found with a Statistical Attack. It's called a hidden volume because it's HIDDEN ;)

Re:Regarding Portable HDs (1)

liquidpele (663430) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225343)

Why try to solve a low-tech problem with high-tech stuff?

Use a CODENAME. Then don't write the person's identity in anything, it's not that hard people. Keep any information about the person strictly oral, don't write it down, email it, or save it.

Re:Regarding Portable HDs (1)

bheer (633842) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225382)

> Use a CODENAME

The problem with that: subpeonas. And Contempt-of-Court/Obstruction of Justice sentences.

Simple... (1)

crc32 (133399) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225187)

Place the servers offshore.

Re:Simple... (1)

sosume (680416) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225334)

And which ISP would you use to connect the office to the offshore location..?

Re:Simple... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13225377)

Re:Simple... (1)

CaymanIslandCarpedie (868408) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225388)

I live in the Cayman Islands, but the head office is in NYC. We have a leased line connecting us, but all confidential data is on servers here in Cayman.

How about... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13225191)

just refer to them as Anonymous Cowards and leave it at that?

The Best Thing (2, Insightful)

danheskett (178529) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225194)

The best thing is to ditch anonymous sources.

Re:The Best Thing (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13225250)

The best thing is to ditch anonymous sources.

Ever heard of Watergate?

Re:The Best Thing (1)

Siergen (607001) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225361)

Just out of curiousity, can you name one fact revealed by anonymous sources that was not also revealed by the swrn testimony during the open hearings in Congress? The movie version of Watergate kind of ignores those nationally televised hearings in favor of a shadowy figure in a parking garage, but most of the information came out of the hearings...

Re:The Best Thing (1)

Tackhead (54550) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225268)

> The best thing is to ditch anonymous sources.

And the next-best thing is to ditch the technology.

"The more they over think the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain."
- Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott, Star Trek III

Re:The Best Thing (1)

Detritus (11846) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225321)

The problem is that most corporations and government agencies have policies that say only certain people are authorized to talk to the press, usually top-level executives and the public relations office. Anyone else is likely to be fired if they are identified as a source of information.

Re:The Best Thing (1)

TheViffer (128272) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225341)

Why? They are probably just as accurate as other sources [wikipedia.org] .

Re:The Best Thing (1)

aiken_d (127097) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225344)

Yeah, because the country would be a lot better off if things like Watergate never came to light. The whole problem here is that irksome press that insists on *reporting* that our elected officials are crooks and liars. Make those inside sources identify themselves publicly, and stop the truth in its tracks!

FWIW, I personally think that someone should go to jail for the Plame incident. However, using that once incident to justify ditching anonymous sources in general is absolutely crazy.

Cheers
-b

Re:The Best Thing (1)

I8TheWorm (645702) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225394)

The same press Dan Rather was a member of?

I agree with you, but it works both ways.

Re:The Best Thing (1)

RailGunner (554645) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225438)

FWIW, I personally think that someone should go to jail for the Plame incident. However, using that once incident to justify ditching anonymous sources in general is absolutely crazy.

See the link in my sig - it's a transcript, where Joe Wilson admits that Plame was not covert when the story broke. Therefore, no crime was committed, therefore, jailed reporter is just being an idiot by not coughing up the source.

Re:The Best Thing (1)

pete6677 (681676) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225440)

Anonymous sources are certainly useful for exposing corruption cases and other scandals, but they do have a credibility problem. Keeping a source anonymous is always possible: the reporter could talk to someone between payphones or by meeting at a park or some method where a name would never be revealed. Most reporters would probably not want to use a totally anonymous source without having some way of verifying the source's info independently. Any crank can call up a newspaper and claim they have some dirt on an elected official, so the reporter would need some basic info to at least see if the source is credible. This, in my opinion, is the greatest obstacle to using anon. sources.

Exactly. (Plus an article link) (1)

XanC (644172) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225384)

Column Link [washingtontimes.com]

On 19 June, 2005, Oregon's Mail Tribune reported that in a recent survey of 419 media outlets, nearly one-fourth of editors said they have banned the use of anonymous sources entirely -- a good start. Yet most members of the press still claim they cannot manage their self-appointed duty as the "watchdog of government" without using anonymous sources.

One must ask, then, how the scientific community manages so well using only verifiable sources? No scientific journal editor would even consider allowing a reference to an anonymous source.

Thomas Henry Huxley defined science as "nothing but trained and organized common sense." Scientific method might be similarly summarized as simply "telling the truth." Science makes rigorous efforts to prevent self-interest, conscious or unconscious, from distorting the truth. In studies testing new medications, neither the physician giving the drug nor the recipient of the drug know whether the medicament being evaluated or a placebo is being given. These double-blind studies prevent distortion resulting from bias. Richard Feynman wrote of "learning how not to fool ourselves" and of having "utter scientific integrity" as being part of "our responsibility as scientists." Scientists are trained to understand how deceptively easy it is to believe what they want to believe and to recognize that they must constantly be on guard against allowing this form of bias to compromise the integrity of their work.

How much a given field of knowledge values the truth can be measured by the attention it gives to methods attempting to preserve the truth.

The steady stream of high-profile scandals in the mass media over the past several years -- ranging from forged documents to trying to pass off fiction as news -- indicates that media methods need some serious scrutiny. First, consider my title, Anonymous sources: A license to lie. I don't mean to imply that reporters lie every time they cite an unidentified source. But consider: an anonymous source could mean no source at all -- material simply made up by the reporter. A more widespread concern, however, is that human communications are rarely perfect. Did the reporter's interpretation accurately portray what his source said? Or did he hear what he wanted to hear? Or did he paraphrase; allowing his bias to alter the meaning? The only way to know is to ask the source. That is why our legal system has cross-examinations; and why the accused is guaranteed the right to face his accuser. The use of anonymous sources almost guarantees that the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth will not be transmitted with accuracy and precision.

As a scientist, I suggest that considering themselves the "watchdog of government" invalidates the media's credibility by any objective scientific standard. It injects a massive anti-government bias that overwhelms the media's well-known liberal bias. As the "watchdog of government," the media needs to find government impropriety -- or make it up if they can't -- to justify their existence. Such a bias would not be tolerated in science, in law or in any other honest field of human endeavor.

A profession considering itself the "watchdog of government" is an excellent example of the mass media fooling itself, believing what it wants to believe. I recall well when our media acted as the ministry of propaganda for the North Vietnamese: The media told the American public that the Tet Offensive of 1968 was a North Vietnamese victory. In fact, it was an unmitigated military disaster for the Communists. Our media repeated that lie incessantly until, finally, the American public believed them, lost patience and stopped supporting the Vietnamese conflict.

In World War II we had censorship of the media. We won that war. In the Vietnam conflict we suffered the consequences of allowing our mass media unrestricted access to flood our homes with grisly scenes of battlefield combat. These powerful images overwhelmed the emotions of a gullible public and destroyed all sense of perspective. Even if we had had the technology in World War II that we have today, broadcasting the photographs of all 12,520 combatants killed in the battle for Okinawa alone would have required a television channel devoted to nothing else.

That our media are now repeating their Vietnam victory by providing propaganda services to Al Qaeda in our war on terror should greatly concern us all. The American people had better grasp these facts soon if we are to prevent an out-of-control media, intoxicated with power, from providing the means for our enemies to destroy our civilization.

me! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13225196)

yes me?

A few options. (2, Insightful)

Knight Thrasher (766792) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225199)

Places like Stealth Surfer ( http://stealthsurfer.biz/anonymous_email.html [stealthsurfer.biz] ) offer off-shore anonymous and encrypted email addresses, free of cost. Usage of free and public computers, such as public librarys and even Wifi hotspots, can help cover tracks. But sometimes it all depends on how determined someone is to invade your network. The most secure computer is one not connected to the internet - that's why I recommend AOL Dialup! You'll never be exposed to the internet again!

Simple: (1)

Anonymous Crowhead (577505) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225202)

Don't use IT.

In... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13225204)

In Soviet Russia prosecutors hide YOU!

diy (1)

drewfuss (872683) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225206)

I suggest that reporters: 1) use their own laptops. 2) use their own email addresses with their own domain. 3) host their domain and email on a server that they own or with a company that will not turn over their records and/or not be subject to US law. 3) always access their email accounts over encrypted connections. On the other end, the source can make himself anonymous. I would suggest reporters encourage their sources to use a free email service like yahoo and always access the emails service using multiple web proxy servers, and publicly accessible connections. Obviously they would need to establish some code to identify the authenticity of the source to the reporter.

Re:diy (1)

Pyrowolf (877012) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225405)

Uh, I think that's one two many threes. Regardless, it sounds like it would be a bit convoluted and confusing, with the exception of somewhat tech-savvy sources. The hard part would be striking a balance between secure and overly complex.

Easy...set up nym accounts.. (2, Interesting)

cayenne8 (626475) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225208)

Should be easy. Set up an email address as a 'nym' account...that bounces about 4-5 times around the world through various mix of nym servers and mixmaster ones...encrypted each leg of the way individually to each server..headers stripped each time.

That would pretty much set things up virtually untraceable.

If they really wanted to get paranoid about it...the end leg could go through a mail2news server, and post responses anonymously, PGP encrypted to USENET groups set up just for this.

Re:Easy...set up nym accounts.. (1)

I8TheWorm (645702) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225425)

I can't possibly see how a bunch of talking rats can help the press.

Actually, I think your thoughts on the USENET groups are the best so far.

Duh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13225209)

You guys do realize that newspapers all over the world have recently instituted strict policies prohibiting the use of anonymous sources, right? After 16 people died in rioting after that anonymously sourced Newsweek story and terrorists killed 50 more in London over it, the use of anonymous sources has been totally banned everywhere.

Re:Duh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13225261)

:troll:

Re:Duh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13225296)

the use of anonymous sources has been totally banned everywhere.
Bullshit...

Re:Duh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13225317)

Yeah, those anonymous sources are terrible and I'm glad they're gone. I'm also glad the FBI was disbanded and the agents hunted down and shot after they confirmed the reports leading to Newsweek's article.

Ironic... (3, Funny)

l_bratch (865693) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225210)

...how NY Times wants anonymous sources, but wants us to sign up to read the article about it.

Slashdot Effect (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13225213)

Link to the anonymous sources from Slashdot.

Then the prosecutors won't be able to access the information.

Don't keep logs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13225214)

Set up a web-based tip form with no logging.

Score: 5; Informative

Onion Routing & Hidden Pages (1)

BobPaul (710574) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225216)

The newspaper and the source could communicate via a blog or wiki hosted on TOR [eff.org] . It would be impossible to find where the actual server was, and if the source never provides his/her name and other information the newspaper could never find it, nor could prosicuters.

The newspaper itself could even host the wiki/blog and provide the public with the Tor Rendevous address. The government could force the paper to open it's page but there would be no logs available and the paper itself would never know who the informant is.

An example would be the Hidden Wiki [6sxoyfb3h2nvok2d.onion] available only to those using TOR.

i2p would also work, but requires open ports so won't work behind a firewall/NAT without configuration.
--
You could BugMeNot, or you could just click. You decide [bobpaul.org]

Possible (1)

kg4gyt (799019) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225221)

Nearly all traffic, especially e-mail, is logged at some point along its travels across the internet. The end point can't remove every trace, they don't control each point along the chain.

anonymous remailers? (1)

Sonicboom (141577) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225222)


I remember there was a great big anonymous email system in Finland.

address was anon4782344@remailer.something.fi

For some reason I also remember reading that the Church of Scientology had something to do with the demise of this remailer.

But - it was good for what it was - and it kept people anonymous.

Do any anon remailers still exist?

Re:anonymous remailers? (1)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225330)

anon.penet.fi. It was great, back in the day, if you had something to hide. Yup, the Scientologists had it closed down, because someone using it posted copyrighted religious documents to USENET. Of course, I'd never trust any "journalist" who felt the need to hide behind anonymous identities. I might as well trust the New York Times or CBS News!

Re:anonymous remailers? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13225360)

I believe you are thinking of anon.penet.fi [wikipedia.org] .

Re:anonymous remailers? (2, Informative)

learn fast (824724) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225406)

You may be thinking of anon.penet.fi [wikipedia.org] . Was popular on usenet while it lasted.

Karl Rove is a CIA Agent (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13225223)

This is a very timely article and an important one. I just received news that turd blos^h^h^h^h^h^h^h^h Karl Rove is an undercover CIA agent. Thank goodness I can post this important news on slashdot anonymously.

Sincerely,
George W. Bush

My two ideas (2, Insightful)

El Cubano (631386) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225226)

The first two things that come to mind:

  • Anonymous letter via snail mail
  • Email submitted via mixmaster

Even then, it is not possible to be completely anonymous. It is always possible to match things like print head patterns, fingerprints, typewriter head impressions, and so on. Like anything else security-related, there are only varying degrees.

Re:My two ideas (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13225367)

One must understand that the newspaper wants to know the identity of the source. Otherwise they would have no way of sorting a crackpot from someone "in the know" and a reliable source from one that lies frequently. Reliable sources become such things by providing facts that bear out inspection regularly.

Now that the reporter knows the identity of the person, that same reporter will need to conceal that information. That same reporter will need to have the moral fiber to truly go to jail. Because a prosecutor will ask for that information, the journalist will need to either actively lie (which is obstructing justice and worthy of jail time) or simply refuse to comply. Refusing to comply may still land the reporter in jail. This assumes that the reporter to steps to prevent others from learning the identity. For example, if it went on a backup tape unencrypted, then an admin may have access to the information. In this case, will the admin stand up to the same level of intimidation? Will the news agency protect such a person to the same degree? Has the person been trained on this kind of situation and the news agency's policies (which the reporter undoubtedly would have)?

How ironic (1)

Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225232)

how newspapers are looking for new ways to hide the identities of anonymous sources from prosecutors.

Coming from the NYT that requires the identities of online readers, that's ironic...

Not a Technical Problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13225233)

Because of the way the law is written (IANAL, but I think I'm right), it doesn't really matter as long as the Journalist knows who the source is, since the Journalist can be held in contempt until she/he gives up the name. The only way to be truely anonomous is if the Journalist doesn't even know who the source is, and that seems like a bad idea.

The Journalist needs to know who the source is to decide if they are trustworthy, and a Judge can put the Journalist in Jail for not telling. This is a political question, or a social question, not a technological one.

Re:Not a Technical Problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13225363)

Mod Parent Up!!!

But as an anonymous source, you will have to read the parent in order to determine whether I am truly trustworthy. :)

How does a journalist know a source is trustworthy (1)

grahamsz (150076) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225419)

In the real world this surely happens over time, it's makes sense for a number of pieces of information to be traded to build the relationship.

Does it matter if the source is idenfied as Anonymous#104928 rather than their name - so long as the journalist can depend that Anonymous#104928 is the same person each time then the same relationship can be established.

How to be Anonymous (1)

bigwavejas (678602) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225235)

Web Surfing - Surf anonymously by using one of the many of free on-line proxy servers. Google for "Anonymous Surfing" or You can find a list here: http://www.freeproxy.ru/en/free_proxy/cgi-proxy.ht m [freeproxy.ru]

Email - You could then grab a gmail or yahoo account (giving a ficticious name.)

Instant Messaging and File Sharing - You can use WASTE (RSA secured). More info can be found at: http://waste.sourceforge.net/ [sourceforge.net] Hope that helps.

Re:How to be Anonymous (1)

stratjakt (596332) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225279)

HAH

All I have to do is set up an open proxy, wait for it to get on all those generated lists, and sit back and watch all the passwords, ssns and credit card numbers scroll by on my screen.

A proxy does not make you anonymous to the person running it - quite the opposite, it gives that person unfettered access to anything you do.

Freenet already! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13225237)

Sheesh, wasn't this the whole point of the freenet project? The trick is making the network and apps like FROST more accessible to non-l33t participants ... aka the last mile.

I can see it now ... free freenet kiosks in the malls under 24x7 camera surv. ;)

Just hit Archive (1)

Overzeetop (214511) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225242)

Once the discussion is archived, nobody can post anything useful to the poll, and then there won't be any trace of who is copying DVDs.

Oh, sorry, I thought this was some freedom of speech thing.

Nevermind.

Simple (1)

jtwJGuevara (749094) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225246)

Install slashcode and let everyone post as Anonymous Coward.

Re:Simple (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13225302)

Oh come on... at least you could have posted as an Anonymous Coward.

You're completely missing the point (1)

Otter (3800) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225247)

The _reporter_ knows who the anonymous source is and, in theory at least, has evaluated his credibility. Journalists aren't looking for a way for some completely anonymous and untraceable person to get his assertions into their publications.

That's what blogs are for.

You have to kill the reporters involved too... (1)

Glasswire (302197) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225251)

...of course. Otherwise through torture, threat of prison (or worse, threat of killing future book deals) they might squeal.:-)

pseudonymity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13225252)

In addition to anonymity pseudonymity is something people want.

That is, have a way to search for writings of.. or verify the articles of Silence Dogood or other pseudonym. That way people can have blogs etc. and people can be sure its the same credible person.

What a dissident group or person needs is to have a system that guarantees psuedonymity.

When FBI comes asking you... (1)

dormant25 (901684) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225265)

..who was it?
Blame it on Microsoft.

"Hey Mr. Sam I don't have the data anymore, I got a blue screen, wanna see it?"

If they don't believe that, better hide under the table, because THEY ARENT THE FBI !!

The same way terrorists do... (1)

philmack (796529) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225275)

...so who does al-qaeda use for their IT, anyway?

Okay, isn't that a bad idea? (1)

PierceLabs (549351) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225277)

If you hide all of the various forms of keeping track of who your source is, how do you validate that your source is actually who they say they are and that you aren't getting conflicting information from various sources? Can a source that you're going to verify (if you know ANYTHING about journalistic integrity) ever be truly anonymous?

This seems to be more of a problem that has a solution in the courts than one that can realisticly be enforced using technology because if you want to go this route, then you might as well just set up a "anonymous tip" box somewhere that people will insert information into from time to time.

The information paradox... (1)

XxtraLarGe (551297) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225283)

I'll bet most people in favor of preserving anonymous sources are also the first to shout "Information wants to be free" whenever some encryption gets cracked.

Big difference between CIA leak and DeepThroat (2, Insightful)

MerlynEmrys67 (583469) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225284)

Lets not forget there is one difference between these two sources...

In the case of deep throat - he was reporting on a crime that someone else committed. At no point did deep throat cross a legal line in reporting what he did to the Washington Post

In the case of the CIA leak - lets just say that who ever their source was COMMITTED a crime by leaking the name to the reporter. By committing a crime, he should be reported and punished to the full extent of the law.

Back to your regularly scheduled First Ammendment ramblings

beware! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13225289)

Just be warned. I will patent and OWN any decent idea posted to slashdot on this subject.

Why should I tell? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13225298)

We, the slashdotter, tend to keep to ourselves with the bevy and greatest technology.

Why let the media in it also? So the PHB can find ways to expose our latest and illusive methodology too?

No thanks....

use paper (1)

meatbridge (443871) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225303)

that's the solution.

Yes, But (1)

4of12 (97621) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225312)

It's easy to provide anonymity to potential sources if reporters widely distribute their public keys.

It's a little harder to provide a distribution mechanism which resists backtracing by determined, well-funded and ruthless power.

It's harder still - and this is a long-standing problem for reporters - to verify material provided by anonymous sources. Even more so if revealing the information effectively endangers the source.

not a technology problem (1)

KD7JZ (161218) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225314)

The only reason a source is of any value to a reporter is because they are not anonymous to the reporter. The reporter has to know the identity and bona fides of the source for the information to have any validity.

You might create a technology solution so that the only place the identity of the source exists is in the reporters mind, but even then the reporter needs to 'sell' the story to the editorial committee.

Instead, this problem must be solved judicially by making the freedom of the press tangible in a reporter's ability to gather information confidentially.

Tool for Disinformation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13225318)

Great! What a great tool for injecting disinformation into the news cycle. I can now with total anonymity just make up unverifiable "facts" that support a particular political position I want put forth and get it published in the NYT. Just reel in a NYT reporter who has more hair mousse than common sense with some purportedly hot juicy news stuff and away we go! The more anti-Bush the better! They will chomp right on it. And I can then scoot away scott free since no one will know me as anything other than "Anonymous Coward".

Completely hide every trace? (1)

winkydink (650484) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225322)

Here's the short answer. You can't.

This is a social problem, not a technological one.

You need to fanatically develop a culture where secrecy surrounding a source's identity is sacrosanct. Reporters don't keep real names in notes. Nothing about real names of sources is written down. Communications involving sources is done verbally and face to face... etc...

I have the perfect solution.. and it's an OLD ONE! (1)

peculiarmethod (301094) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225323)

It's easy. We set up pigeon feeders at newspapers, and in a little donated park areas around metropolis areas (good for the environment), set up bird seed machines that are on teh cheap as to attract lots of people, and train the birds to move from various park areas to newspapers. Then, all the informant has to do is pick a random park area and attach scroll to informant pigeon.. I mean carrier pigeon.. and bam. Too many people to keep track of for snoopy snoops. I suppose the only worry is getting a NO CARRIER signal. But the redundancy could be there with multiple visits to parks.

Easy (0, Troll)

rlp (11898) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225327)

Forget about encryption, anonymous re-mailers etc. and just make stuff up like Jason Blair (and others) did.

Keep it in your head (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225328)

they still don't have reliable thought readers yet, and we all know torture doesn't get you more reliable results, so that solution will work.

And never ever talk about it or write it down.

Consider using a numbered source system. Find a book that has the picture of the source and refer to that picture as something like RG7952 for Salizar's Homoculus Directory (R=S,G=H), page 89 (79=89), column 5, row 2 - which is a picture of that person. And then whenever you refer to it in internal articles, always use that exact reference (RG7952 big fluffy bear spotted at midnight doing tango with Shiek's best bud George in horizontal position on 12/5/04).

Anonymous login (1)

JohnWiney (656829) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225331)

Have them all log in to the NYT web site, and post from there. No one would believe the login data.

the authenticity of anonymous sources (1)

VolciMaster (821873) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225345)

can be easily called into question. If you're writing a 'big scoop', you want to be sure you're reporting correctly (well, maybe not for some papers). The accuracy of information coming from someone who is willing to be identified is generally higher than that of the guy who remains anonymous.

Think of the /. feature of posting AC. In general, AC posts aren't worth as much as a post associated with a known user. I certainly give more interest to someone who bothered to register than I do to an AC posting.

That being stated, anonymity can be a Good Thing (tm), especially if you're worried about repurcussions from the entity you're informing upon.

Anonymous transactions happen every day when we use cash to pay for common items. It's why people don't remember who bought the giant Butterfinger bar at 1547 on Tuesday afternoon: it's only a buck. You also can't verify that you bought it, or when without a receipt, which takes away from the anonymity. However, if you're asked about where you were between 1530 and 1600 on Tuesday, and you paid with a credit/debit card, the time and location of the transaction can be verified to a much higher degree of confidence.

The use of anonymous sources isn't a bad thing per se, but the credibility of someone who refuses to be identified is generally viewed lower (sometimes a lot lower) than the credibility of a source with a name.

Call Panama, they know...it's HUSHMAIL (1)

GPLDAN (732269) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225348)

Panama is THE haven for hiding assets. If you embezzeled a shitload of cash from your corporation and need to disappear to a third world country, it's guys like these [panama-off...rvices.com] who can help you out. Isabella from shes.flightrisk.org used them to vanish somewhere having absconded over $100M from her family.

These crazy Panamanian lawyers recommend Hushmail. Used by 4 out 5 international criminals who chew gum. Let's just put it this way... if you wanted to contact a journalist with a blow the roof off the government leak, you'd use Hushmail. The United States Feds wants to get it's hands on Hushmail and cannot. It's been tested in international court. You start sending email to a journalist inbox from Hushmail and they will not find you. Mark Felt would use Hushmail.

i saw this in a movie (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13225351)

write messages on toliet paper
if someone tries to read it
put it in your mouth or flush it down the toliet

i think it was on silence of the lambs.

One way hash. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13225353)

Other than blasting off and nuking it from space, a one way hash is the only way to be sure.

Of course, with either solution, all data is irretrievably lost...

Without mind wipes... (1)

Vardan (172720) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225375)

it's pretty much impossible. While it's great that reporters want to protect their sources, ultimately, those sources are almost never revealed by means of technological know-how. They're either revealed because someone decides to talk, or they never come to light and the reporter ends up going to jail for contempt of court.

For example, a local reporter in our area refused to give up the name of his source for confidential videotapes leaked from FBI files (in regard to the trial of then-mayor of Providence, "Buddy" Cianci). The source was ultimately revealed because people started blabbing, not because "Big Brother" ransacked the reporter's hard drive.

While in principle, I think encrypting such data may be a good idea, to keep it away from casual hackers and leaks of that nature, I doubt that cryptography or such things will keep the info out of the hand of law enforcement or other government agencies. They'll fall back on their usual technique of applying pressure to the person, not the technology, and that person either will or will not cave in.

On a bit of a tangent, I don't think there's any real way to keep someone involved in a report from being in the know as to who the source is - anonymous submission sources and the such are not very useful, because then the reporter has no way to judge the credibility of the information.

Is moderation borken? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13225379)

There are 50 comments so far and not a single one is moderated up or down.

Dude! (1)

caudron (466327) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225385)

ROT13 is the answer! [wikipedia.org] That'll ensure privacy and anonymity for certain!

Tell The Truth (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225387)

Why should we help these corporate media to further protect their anonymous sources? They're abusing the trust we have in their publications, by quoting sources their writers know, but without investigating whether their quotes are accurate. In fact, they look to their sources for quotes to reinforce their foregone conclusions about a story, then keep their source anonymous to protect them from that scrutiny.

Now, if these corporate media were looking for a way to require that any anonymous source be corroborated by another source, without a vested interest in merely backing up the first source's selfserving lies, I could see helping. But of course that's impossible to automate without true artificial intelligence. With their huge budgets, and other carveouts from accountability, why don't these corporate media get their sources in order first, with some human intelligence? Starting with discarding their attitude that the coroprate PR must be the basic truth, because it's worth so much money. And getting back into actual journalism, where the writer and editor collaborate to find the true story, regardless of who's telling it, or who it's about, then tell it to the public in a way that will be best understood. There's lots of automated tools for that. They should look more into using those tools, and less into CYA technologies.

Anonymous sources, registered readers (1)

Golden_Eternity (139500) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225390)

Anyone else find it ironic that they're looking to set up this anonymous communication system and yet they require registration to read their site?

It goes to the heart of news *cough* ethics... (2, Insightful)

suitepotato (863945) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225393)

*ack*

I can't say that with straight face and without choking.

Anyhow, if sources are so anonymous that they cannot be verified as to identity by the news people, and when has this ever stopped them, then how do we ever know it isn't some geek with a crude sense of humor who has managed to master nym and mixmaster remailers?

If they are known by the reporters, then the court order comes into play and they can testify or go to jail. That simple. We're not talking lawyer-client or doctor-patient or married couples here, we are talking about quite plainly, people whose entire job it is to print the most sensational things in their area that they can to sell newspapers and increase paying readership. Not saving people from the noose, not saving people's lives, not keeping a marriage together.

I place reporter-source privilege on the same level as that of gossip-mongers in my own neighborhood and as much importance on it. Reporters say their profession is about truth and facts. Well truth is ephemeral and in the mind of the person at hand and facts things that people may very well ignore in choosing their truth for themselves. If they want to be so high and mighty, let them put out verifiable bonafide facts and cut down the use of anonymous sources.

If news people see it as needing some way to circumvent court orders using encryption, then how trustworthy can it be? Sounds more like shielding their backsides and giving themselves greater latitude in abusing "anonymous sources" which they do too frequently these days as it is. Let them start acting ethical and aboveboard in the fourth estate to begin with and not looking for ways to cover their behinds.

Trust is the issue more than technology (1)

geekee (591277) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225397)

See this article [time.com] . Cooper's source was revealed because Time editors chose to reveal that source, against Cooper's wishes, in accordance with a Supreme Court ruling. Cooper should not have trusted his editors, if he really wanted to protect his source. No amount of technological security will help if you are betrayed by your own people.

What is going on? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13225399)

From the looks of this and the previous post on the main page, it seems like the Slashdot mods have all gone to take a nap. Seriously, what's going on? How can nobody get modded up? Or are trolls to blame?

removing traces of wired comm is impossible. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13225401)

Re-read the patriot act. It basically gives the DOJ/Homeland/DOD the same capabilities as NSA/CIA. One of those, is the ability to listen in on ALL wired (including fibered) comm here in the USA.

If you do not believe it, then ask why homeland security busted a 1000 gang members this weekend? How would a group who was concerned with terrorist know so much about common thugs?Do you honestly think that was from human intel via military people?

No, it will now be much easier for the current admin to know exactly what is going on in Amerika.

Ulimate Security (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13225402)

Morse code with laser pointers in the desert!

Simple Solution...not really (1)

AviLazar (741826) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225403)

Some might say: Setup a submission form, give the source a tracking number (reference number for the submission), and then delete the logs every hour so there is no IP trace.

But this is where the solution doesn't work: Reporters have to be able to verify their sources. To make sure it isn't a quack. If it is completely anonymous - what is to stop me from sending a note saying I am a top White-House aid and I got the inside scoop?

IMHO if the data given involves national security (i.e. the name of an undercover CIA agent), compromises peoples lives then the newspaper should be held morally and legally responsible to NOT publish it - and in fact must contact the department this is reporting on. At the very least to give some kind of warning. Stuff like whistleblowing is covered under the Whistle Blower laws - but risking someones life (i.e. that CIA agent who was made public) is wrong. We know there are spooks, and they work. If you do not like the idea of undercover ops then stop it at the system level - have it made illegal...but to risk someones life is inexcuseable.

Using technology to protect anonymous sources (1)

legirons (809082) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225414)

How can a newspaper setup an IT system that completely hides every trace (including emails, phone calls notes, logs and so forth) of an anonymous source's identity?"

(a) Make the whole frigging website accessible by HTTPS. That way, someone looks like they're reading the news, so far as a network sniffer is concerned.

(b) Stop requiring people to register their full name, age, occupation, and list of health problems before reading your website. Somehow, I think the New York Times missed this lesson.

(c) Stop logging. By which I mean, your website doesn't set cookies and apache doesn't log IP addresses. You don't get the "average length of visit" on your web stats, but who cares anyway?!?

(d) Allow feedback. Someone wants to comment on a story, they will. You might call them an anonymous whistleblower, but it's just comments on a story, so far as your website is concerned.

(c2) Check your ISP. Check their 'we'll squeal without prompting' policy. Then move your website to XS4ALL.

Ask Bob Woodward (1)

Ricdude (4163) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225420)

To this day, he has no idea how Mark "Deep Throat" Felt sent messages to him in his morning paper.

Best protection (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13225422)

Don't require a login?

Get your sourct to post as AC on slashdot. (1)

team99parody (880782) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225429)

This Anon Coward guy seems pretty smart, so I think Journalists should just listen to him.

This is an easy one... (1)

MrPanda (842498) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225430)

Paper + fire = secure

Who Cares? (1)

aardwolf64 (160070) | more than 9 years ago | (#13225431)

With full anonymity, a white house staffer's word means nothing more than the average schmoe on the street. For the information to have value, someone needs to know the identity of the source. Once that has happened, full anonymity isn't possible.
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