ACLU of Washington Launches Secure Communication Tool

Monday, December 21, 2015

Most of us use cell phones and email every day. As our communications make their way from sender to recipient, they expose information about their contents and our interactions with others. The technologies we rely on thus come with inherent risks to our privacy and security. Thanks to disclosures made by whistleblower Edward Snowden about the National Security Agency (NSA) and other intelligence and law enforcement agencies, we have a better sense of the extent to which surveillance pervades American life.

Protecting the confidentiality and anonymity of sources and clients is essential to the work of the ACLU and other organizations that defend individual rights. At the ACLU of Washington, we’ve taken many steps to bolster the security and anonymity of legal intake, the process by which we connect with those who seek our help.

Now we are launching SecureDrop, an open source document submission system originally programmed by the late Aaron Swartz, and now maintained by the Freedom of the Press Foundation.  SecureDrop enhances anonymity and security, something that is virtually unachievable with mail, email, SMS, telephone, and most forms of digital communication. It does this in part by relying on an open-source web browser called the Tor Browser.

We’re experimenting with SecureDrop to fight back against surveillance and better protect our clients and sources. Organizations like the ACLU of Washington need to think through ways of providing more secure ways of communicating with the people we assist daily. We hope that our experiences with the system can be used to prepare educational materials and models for other organizations to use. 

SecureDrop is not a perfect solution. It comes with technical barriers and administrative difficulties, and does not defend against all attackers and risks. Nonetheless, it is a significant step to confront the current challenges posed by surveillance.

To learn more about getting help from the ACLU of Washington, please review the information on our intake page. To learn more about SecureDrop, how it works, how it can be accessed, and certain risks and limitations associated with its use, please visit this page. If you’d like to contact us about our experiences with these technologies, or would like to share your own thoughts or experiences, please contact us at [email protected].

The ACLU of Washington would like to acknowledge the late Aaron Swartz for his original development of what is now SecureDrop and for the passion he shared for an informed society. We thank the Freedom of the Press Foundation for their continued support of SecureDrop, and The Tor Project for their continued work on Tor. Additional thanks go out to the ACLU of Washington’s technical staff and our intern Christopher Sheats, whose assistance has been invaluable.