Vive l’anomie

Yesterday I mentioned a proposed federal shield law that would — at least as currently written — omit bloggers from the partial protections that recognized journalists would obtain in regards to being subpoenaed to testify or turn over a source. On a related note, today I want to talk about tools that allow bloggers to post anonymously.

Anonymity is not a substitute for the shield law protections, which I think should be bestowed on all Americans who communicate information to a public audience. But it may be useful to whistle blowers, muckrakers and others who might want to publicize some condition without disclosing their identity. It is also possible that kidnappers, terrorists or other criminals might want to announce actions from behind a mask. So you can and should assume that technical and legal means would be used to pierce anonymous postings — and be prepared to accept the consequences of discovery. Finally, it is conceivable that people would anonymously post information that falls just short of illegal — defamatory statements, gossip or dirty tricks aimed at political opponents. Like many technologies, the virtue or vice of anonymity lies in how it is employed. So with these caveats, here’s a few tools you might want to bookmark for an anonymous day.

Reporters without Borders has published a great guide to blogging, including a section on tools to avoid censorship. As their website says:

“Bloggers are often the only real journalists in countries where the mainstream media is censored or under pressure. Only they provide independent news, at the risk of displeasing the government and sometimes courting arrest. “

Reporters Without Borders has produced this handbook to help them, with handy tips and technical advice on how to to remain anonymous and to get round censorship, by choosing the most suitable method for each situation.”

According to mainstream press reports the guidebook was produced with some support from the French Foreign Ministry. The French name of the organization is Reporters Sans Frontieres, and all I can say to the handbook creators and to the French officials who funded the effort is, “Merci beaucoup.”

I was recently introduced to Chris Palmer, technology manager for the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco, and when I brought up the French effort he pointed me to two other sources.

As Palmer said in an email, “The strongest-seeming blog anonymity system I’ve seen so far is Invisiblog.”

He added: “And of course our Tor project is highly relevant.”

I note these sites as resources. I am interested in getting attention, not in avoiding it. But I am mindful that there are people who risk their careers or lives to get out the word, and this is for them. And maybe one day for you or me.

Tom Abate
‘Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media