Aaron Swartz’s last gift to journalism and online privacy finds a new home

October 15, 2013

Aaron Swartz spoke during an anti-SOPA/PIPA rally in 2012. (Daniel J. Sieradski via Flickr)

Before Aaron Swartz's suicide in January, he had nearly completed work with Wired's Kevin Poulsen on a secure system to accept messages and documents from anonymous sources over the Internet. The result of that effort was DeadDrop, an open- source python platform. The system assigns each source a unique code name so a relationship can be established without news organizations ever knowing the source's identity.

Poulsen managed the program for the first six months since going public six months ago. On Tuesday, the Freedom of the Press Foundation announced it will be taking over the project, renaming it SecureDrop and providing on-site installation for news organizations along with ongoing technical support.

The New Yorker was the first news organization to implement a version of the program, launching their StrongBox system in May. Since then, the application has gone through an extensive security audit led by a team at the University of Washington, which also  included input from noted information security experts Bruce Schneier and Jacob Appelbaum.

The Freedom of the Press Association has hired computer specialist James Dolan to help with technical support and installations. Dolan worked with the New Yorker on their installation of StrongBox and reviewed the security architecture before its initial launch.

“A truly free press hinges on the ability of investigative journalists to build trust with their sources,"  argued Trevor Timm, the executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation said in a statement Tuesday. Timm also said that the anonymity made possible by the project is all the more important in light of recent NSA revelations and prosecutions against whistleblowers, which he believes "have shown the grave challenges to this relationship and the lengths governments will go to undermine it."

Andrea Peterson covers technology policy for The Washington Post, with an emphasis on cybersecurity, consumer privacy, transparency, surveillance and open government.
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