Whistleblowers have changed the world and there’s still a lot of hidden secrets that the public really should know about. High-profile leakers like Snowden, Manning and Assange are known globally, and are paying a high price for their courage. But only a few are dedicated enough to blow the whistle in public – most leakers want to carry on with their normal lives and remain anonymous. Snowden did no doubt show the way for others, and there are already several who have tried to leak and remain anonymous. That’s not easy and the stakes are high! Which is underlined by the recent news about the feds discovering one leaker.
But is it even possible to leak anonymously in this word that in many ways is worse than Orwell’s fictive surveillance nightmare? Let’s list some advice for the case you would like to leak by phone to a journalist. I guess not many of you readers will ever be in a situation where you need this. But read on, this is highly interesting anyway and tells a lot about how our digital word works.
Ok, let’s assume the worst case. The secrets you want to leak affects US national security, which means that your enemy is powerful and can use top surveillance against you. Let’s also assume it’s info you have authorized access to. And that you want to talk on the phone to a journalist.
Here’s some basic rules and hints that may prevent you from ending up behind bars.
- First you need to assess how many persons have access to the data. They will all be on a list of suspects, together with you. The shorter the list, the bigger the risk for you.
- Your mobile phone is a tracking device. The cell phone network knows what base station you are connected to at any time. Other services can record and store even GPS-accurate position data. All this is accessible to the agents and you must make sure it doesn’t reveal you. Needless to say, your own phone does not participate in this project.
- You need to find out who you should leak to. Never do this research from your own computer because your search history can reveal you. It leaves traces both in your computer and in your user profile at Google (unless you know what you are doing and use privacy tools properly). Do this research from a public computer. Make sure you have never logged in to any personal account from this computer.
- You need a “burner phone” to do the leaking. This is a phone that can’t be connected to your identity in any way. Here’s some rules for how to use it:
- It is always switched off with the battery removed when not in use. Just using the power button does not cut power from all parts of the device.
- It is never switched on in or close to your home. The agents can easily find out what base station it was connected to and turning it on near home can make you more suspected than others.
- It is never switched on in or close to your vehicle. Base station records for the phone may correlate with traffic cameras storing your registration plate. This is especially important if you have a modern car with a built-in data connection for service monitoring etc.
- Never user the burner for any other contacts. Even a single call to your spouse creates a record that ties you to the phone. Needless to say, never store any other info in the phone than what you need for this project.
- You always leave your own phone at home when going out to use the burner phone. Otherwise the agents can see that your own phone “happen” to be in the same base station when the burner is used.
- Leave your own phone turned ON at home when you go out with the burner. Otherwise you create a recognizable pattern where your own phone turns off and the burner turns on, and vice versa, in a synchronized manner.
- Leave any other wireless devices at home. Tablets, wireless mobile payment devices, anything else with a radio transmitter.
- Using a voice changer is necessary especially if the list of suspects is short. Assume that your calls can be recorded and your own voice checked against the recording.
- Get the burner phone. Scout for a dealer with old-looking or insufficient security cameras located not too close to your home. Remember that the agents may locate the shop where the burner phone was sold, get the security camera recording and compare against the list of suspects. Even better, ask someone else to buy the phone for you.
- Choose a cheap non-smart prepaid phone with removable battery. Pay cash and make sure you don’t reveal your identity to the seller in any way. Safely destroy any receipts and other paperwork related to the purchase.
- Think about where to store physical items that can tie you to the leak. Such items are the burner phone and related documents or data media. This is especially important if the list of suspects is short. Storing such items at home, at your workplace or in your vehicle will reveal you if the agents perform a search. Try to find some other place that is safe and can’t be tied to you.
- Now you are ready to contact the journalist. Be very rigid with the rules for how to use the burner phone. There are also some additional rules for this situation:
- Dress discreetly to avoid sticking out in surveillance camera footage.
- Be far enough from home when making the call. Turn the burner on, make the call and turn it off again right away.
- Avoid public places with surveillance cameras when the burner is on.
- Do not use your credit card during this trip. Pay cash for everything.
- Any other personal payment instruments, like public transportation payment cards, is a big no-no as well.
- You have to assume that journalists dealing with leaks are being watched constantly. Assume that the hunt is on as soon as you have made the first contact. Try to wrap up the project as quickly as possible and minimize the number of times you turn on the burner phone.
- When you are done, dispose all items related to the leak in a secure way. The trash can of your own house is NOT secure. Dump the phone in the river or put it in a public trash sack far enough from home. The truly paranoid leaker will break the phone with gloves on. The outer shell can contain fingerprints or traces of your DNA and the electronics the traceable phone ID. It’s good to make sure they end up in different places.
Huh! That’s a lot to remember. Imagine, all this just for maintaining privacy when making a phone call! But you really need to do it like this if the big boys are after you and you still want to continue as a free citizen. I hope you never need to go through all this, and also that you do it right if you have to.
Disclaimer. This text is mainly intended as a demonstration of how intrusive the surveillance society is today. We provide no guarantee that this will be enough to keep you out of jail. If you really plan to become a whistle blower, research the topic thoroughly and get familiar with other sources as well (but remember what I wrote about researching from your own computer).
Safe whistle blowing,