Washington Post Launches “Secure Drop” to Encourage Anonymous Reporting

The Washington Post has decided to take a new step in the gathering of news anonymously.

They have gone out of their way to create a secure system for people to provide the newspaper with information that then cannot be traced back to the person providing it. The paper is calling it “Secure Drop.” This seems to be part of a trend in high-tech not to blindly accept the government’s right to have all information all the time. It follows Apple’s decision to create encryption that is almost impossible for the FBI to crack.

I can’t pretend to understand the technology involved. However, that is not the point. The attempt to protect journalistic sources, which the Post is committing some real resources to accomplish, is something we should all applaud. Even as the Post points out, “no system is 100 percent secure,” the paper seems to be going to great lengths to create an inbox that would allow a source to provide information that could not be traced back to the source. Can such a system be abused? Of course. But we need a way to find out what the government and others are really doing and without anonymous sources (or dare I say…whistleblowers) we would be in the dark.

I fear that the Post will also be attracting some pretty serious scrutiny by implementing this system. No administration will be happy with the idea that a completely anonymous system is available to whistleblowers to provide information to the press. Any administration that uses technology to track every email in the country can hardly be surprised when that same technology can be used to thwart efforts to track anonymous whistleblowers. There will by many complaints that the wrong people will use this system and that it will create additional risks. I can’t completely dismiss such concerns, but the Post is not setting up a system to aid and abet criminal behavior. It is setting up a system that allows whistleblowers to provide us with information about criminal behavior.

The Post’s effort is a good reminder that the first whistleblower law—as a mentor of mine likes to say—is the First Amendment to the Constitution.

One small caveat to anyone thinking of using a Secure Drop from the Washington Post. If your issue involves fraud committed against the government and there is real government money involved, you may want to consider whether you have a false Claims Case before you expose the matter to the Press.  It is difficult to file a case on any matter that has been publicly disclosed. And, of course, it is more difficult to prove you were the original source of the information if it is impossible to trace the leak. Also, it’s worth noting that the Post’s Secure Drop makes the information anonymous, but no one can say for sure what the legal ramifications of its implementation may be. If disclosing something sensitive, you may want to meet a lawyer first.

Here’s hoping this is part of a trend to protect whistleblowers. Anyone with serious information, about serious issues can be put into a difficult position by exposing the truth.  The Post’s effort may be one small step to help the real heroes who expose wrongdoing and provide us with real information.