Technology & ScienceCBC Investigates

​CBC adopts SecureDrop to allow for anonymous leaks

Encrypted technology allows users to anonymously share files, messages online without being tracked

Dave Seglins - CBC News

January 29, 2016

CBC's SecureDrop is a web-based system that allows whistleblowers to confidentially reach our journalists, including those who work in investigative units across Canada and on our leading programs. (Getty images)

CBC News is launching a powerful new tool to help those with important information or sensitive documents contact our journalists using encryption and anonymous online messaging.

CBC's SecureDrop is a web-based system that allows whistleblowers to confidentially reach CBC journalists, including those who work in investigative units across Canada and on our leading programs the fifth estate, Go Public and Marketplace.

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"In an age of pervasive government surveillance, it's an absolutely vital means to communicate safely with confidential sources and whistleblowers," said Ryan Gallagher, of the online publication The Intercept, which has been instrumental in reporting on the global surveillance programs revealed by U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden.

"It can be used by whistleblowers inside the government, for example, to expose corruption, abuses of power, cover-ups," Gallagher said.

CBC/Radio-Canada is one of the first national broadcasters in the world to adopt SecureDrop, which is already used by The New Yorker, The Washington Post and The Guardian. (Norway's national broadcaster has also set up SecureDrop, while The Globe and Mail adopted the system 10 months ago.)

The Washington Post's Julie Tate says her newsroom regularly receives story-worthy information via SecureDrop.

"It has allowed whistleblowers to communicate with us in a safe environment and provide us with information that is of interest to various reporters in the newsroom," she told CBC.

Gallagher credits the tool for protecting sources on a number of news stories, including an exposé last year about the hack of millions of U.S. inmates' prison phone calls — a massive breach of attorney-client privilege.

"Unfortunately it is often the case that whistleblowers face reprisals if they speak out publicly," Gallagher said. "They can lose their jobs or even be thrown in jail. SecureDrop defends against that. It protects the identities of whistleblowers and at the same time helps journalists keep … the public informed."

Developed by the late Aaron Swartz, an American computer programmer and internet activist, SecureDrop was launched in 2013 by the Freedom of the Press Foundation, a public-interest journalism advocacy group based in California.

How it works

CBC has developed some simple instructions on how to use SecureDrop.

Sources first need to download a piece of software that allows you to surf the internet anonymously; it prevents someone from watching your connection, what sites you visit or your physical location.

Using this more secure connection, we then provide you with an address to the CBC SecureDrop website, where you can upload documents and anonymously exchange messages. We can't tell who you are.

Once we receive your encrypted messages, we take them offline to read them.

We'll also send messages back to you via the CBC SecureDrop website, where you are the only one who can read those messages by inputting your own special code.

CBC takes the protection of sources very seriously. Anonymous sources play an important role in journalism and support our mission of exposing problems, corruption and abuses of power — be it within government, corporations or society at large.

Your decision to use SecureDrop is yours and yours alone. You do so at your own risk.

SecureDrop isn't for everyone; it requires a bit of technical know-how. But we're hoping people with information vital to the public interest will consider using it as a more anonymous alternative to email or telephone.

Of course there are other ways of reaching us anonymously. Many of our journalists are now using PGP encryption to help mask contents of emails exchanged with sources. And our mailbox is still open to receiving the classic, unmarked brown envelope. (Try me! c/o CBC News, Box 500 Station A, Toronto, ON, M5W 1E6)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dave Seglins
CBC Investigations

Dave Seglins is a CBC News journalist whose recent reporting has focused on Canada's national security and surveillance programs revealed through documents obtained by U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden. Seglins and his team have investigated a wide range of domestic and international affairs, including railway safety, policing, and government and corporate corruption.

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