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Aaron Swartz's Last Gift: Site Launches Whistleblower Safe House

In era of "most aggressive government assaults on press freedom," new open source dropbox provides "secure route" for leaks

- Lauren McCauley, staff writer

Kevin Poulsen and Aaron Swartz working out the kinks of their open sourced safe house. (Photo via The New Yorker)One month before his January 11th suicide, web pioneer and creative commons architect Aaron Swartz completed one last project—an "opensource drop box for leaked documents along the lines of WikiLeaks."

Launched Thursday, Deaddrop is the brainchild of former hacker turned Wired editor, Kevin Poulsen, who approached Swartz with the idea. Swartz built the code for the project—one last gift to journalists and whistleblowers worldwide and the open-source internet community.

"He agreed to do it," writes Poulsen, "with the understanding that the code would be open-source—licensed to allow anyone to use it freely—when we launched the system."

As the Obama Administration continues their dogged pursuit and prosecution of press sources and whistleblowers like Bradley Manning and while the news of the Justice Department's seizure of Associated Press records continues to swirl, newsrooms are frantically reevaluating their security procedures.

"With the risks now so high," said Poulsen, "it's crucial that news outlets find a secure route for sources to come to them."

The New Yorker magazine is the first to apply Deaddrop technology—posted under the name Strongbox—as a safe house for sources and journalists, allowing readers to "communicate with our writers and editors with greater anonymity and security than afforded by conventional email."

Named in reference to the spy method of passing items or information between two individuals through a secret location, the system works by "allow[ing] for a two-way communication between source and journalist, and not just a one-way handing over of information," The Guardian's Ed Pilkington explains.

"Sources are able to upload documents anonymously," he continues, "through the Tor network onto servers that will be kept separate from the New Yorker's main computer system. Leakers are then given a unique code name that allows New Yorker reporters or editors to contact them through messages left on Strongbox."

In the era of "the most aggressive US government assaults on press freedom in a generation," this open source tool will offer a measure of protection to those willing to speak out.

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