Is the SafeHouse website safe for whistleblowers?

A new ‘whistleblower’ website launched on Thursday is under attack from privacy and computer security experts. The website, “SafeHouse,” is a creation of the Wall Street Journal.  Critics include Rik Ferguson, a security analyst at Trend Micro, Jacob Appelbaum, senior developer on the Tor online anonymity network, and Paul Mutton, a web security tester. [Guardian]

SafeHouse’s terms and conditions includes a disclaimer that it “cannot ensure complete anonymity” of whistleblowers who opt to use the most secure form of uploading to the site – and recommends using “cloaking” tools such as Tor, which hide the online identities of web users.

However, uploading from Tor did not work on Thursday or Friday when tested by security researchers. “This is quite worrying and makes you think that it’s quite risky if you’re going to put information on there,” Paul Mutton, a web security tester, told the Guardian.

The website’s terms and conditions also permit the Wall Street Journal to disclose the whistleblower’s identity.

Rebecca Mackinnon, a research fellow at the New American Foundation, pointed out on Twitter that the site’s terms of use allow the Journal to turn over sources’ identities to law enforcement in any case where the source hasn’t made that special request for anonymity: “We reserve the right to disclose any information about you to law enforcement authorities or to a requesting third party, without notice, in order to comply with any applicable laws and/or requests under legal process,” the terms read. [Forbes]

By reserving for itself the right to disclose a whistleblower’s identity, potentially to any “requesting third party,” the Journal has created an enormous loophole.  We can’t know the Journal’s intent, but its actions ensure that the newspaper can safely profit from disclosures while whistleblowers shoulder all of the risks–which are considerable.

If whistleblowing benefits society as a whole (and there is widespread consensus that it does), then society, as a whole, should share the burden.  Yet, individuals routinely end up bearing the burden alone. What does that say about the rest of us?


Photo “Confidential” (CC) by photo (CC) by ivoryelephantphotography at Flickr