Transparency

In the Surveillance Age, Would-Be Leakers Must Be Tech Savvy

Leave the cell phone at home

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We now live in a world where public servants informing the public about government behavior or wrongdoing must practice the tradecraft of drug dealers and spies. Otherwise, these informants could get caught in the web of administrations that view George Orwell's 1984 as an operations manual.

With the recent revelation that the Department of Justice under the Obama administration secretly obtained phone records for Associated Press journalists — and previous subpoenas by the Bush administration targeting the Washington Post and New York Times — it is clear that whether Democrat or Republican, we now live in a surveillance dystopia beyond Orwell's Big Brother vision. Even privately collected data isn't immune, and some highly sensitive data is particularly vulnerable thanks to the Third Party Doctrine.

So how can one safely leak information to the press?

Well, it's hard. Even the head of the CIA can't email his mistress without being identified by the FBI. With a simple subpoena or warrant, the FBI can obtain historical calling information (and with cellphones, location history); email messages (and records revealing the pattern of where and when the target accessed these accounts); internet activity; and much more.