The Wall Street Journal and Al-Jazeera Offering False Anonymity to Whistle Blowers

Lately people have been holding Al-Jazeera up as some kind of Greek god of journalism. I never subscribed to that idea and find Al-Jazeera to be yet another news source with commercial interests (which I have absolutely nothing against). As a commercial entity Al-Jazeera have to play by certain rules of the state will take away their ability to do business.

When I heard that both the Wall Street Journal and Al-Jazeera were going to offer means for whistle blowers to submit documents anonymously I assumed there was some kind of catch and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) once again proved my concerns correct:

Despite promising anonymity, security and confidentiality, AJTU can “share personally identifiable information in response to a law enforcement agency’s request, or where we believe it is necessary.” SafeHouse’s terms of service reserve the right “to disclose any information about you to law enforcement authorities” without notice, then goes even further, reserving the right to disclose information to any “requesting third party,” not only to comply with the law but also to “protect the property or rights of Dow Jones or any affiliated companies” or to “safeguard the interests of others.” As one commentator put it bluntly, this is “insanely broad.” Neither SafeHouse or AJTU bother telling users how they determine when they’ll disclose information, or who’s in charge of the decision.

So if you submit any information to either of these services they reserve the right to turn your ass in upon request. If you wish to submit anonymous information as a whistle blower you’re better off using WikiLeaks as they have a pretty good track record of keeping their sources anonymous and have no terms or agreements that state they will turn your ass over to anybody upon request. In addition to reserving the right to turn your ass in both sites also lack anonymity:

Despite their public claims to the contrary, both SafeHouse and AJTU disclaim all promises of confidentiality, anonymity, and security.

SafeHouse offers users three upload options: standard, anonymous, and confidential. The “standard” SafeHouse upload “makes no representations regarding confidentiality.” Neither does the “anonymous” upload which, as Appelbaum pointed out, couldn’t technically provide it anyway. For “confidential” submissions, a user must first send the WSJ a confidentiality request. The request itself, unsurprisingly, is neither confidential nor anonymous. And until the individual user works out a specific agreement with the paper, nothing is confidential.

Similarly, AJTU makes clear that “AJTU has no obligation to maintain the confidentiality of any information, in whatever form, contained in any submission.” Worse, AJTU’s website by default plants a trackable cookie on your web browser which allows them “to provide restricted information to third parties.” So much for anonymity!

Yes neither of these systems allow for anonymity or legal protection against government (and in the case of the Wall Street Journal any third-party) requests for personal information about submitters. If you want to blow the whistle on something make sure you don’t use either the Wall Street Journal’s or Al-Jazeera’s services.