/ Cory Doctorow / 11 am Wed, Jan 8 2020
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  • A Public Service: a comprehensive, comprehensible guide to leaking documents to journalists and public service groups without getting caught

    A Public Service: a comprehensive, comprehensible guide to leaking documents to journalists and public service groups without getting caught

    In A Public Service, activist/trainer Tim Schwartz presents the clearest-ever guide to securely blowing the whistle, explaining how to exfiltrate sensitive information from a corrupt employer -- ranging from governments to private firms -- and get it into the hands of a journalist or public interest group in a way that maximizes your chances of making a difference (and minimizes your chances of getting caught).

    Parts of "A Public Service" read like a spy-thriller, covering detailed operational security planning, everything from buying a burner phone to doing research into possible journalists to take your docs to -- all without leaving a trail that can be traced back to you.

    Schwartz draws on the lessons of whistleblowers who remained anonymous (like the Panama Papers' John Doe); to those who got away with it, more or less (like Edward Snowden); to those who ended up in jail for their bravery (like Reality Winner). Schwartz goes over their planning and execution with a fine, forensic lens, making it clear where they were smart, where they were lucky, and where their luck or their planning failed them.

    Every technical lesson is presented in clear, easy-to-follow terms -- and more importantly, this technical material is embedded in super-sharp context explaining how to assess your risks and use your technological information to counter them. Schwartz begins at the beginning, with steps for getting data out of a network without leaving signs that point to you, and then carries on through the whistleblowing process -- sanitizing identifying information in the files, securely transmitting them, and then covering any trace of your possession.

    Just as important are Schwartz's chapters on how to figure out who you should leak your documents to, and then how to contact them in a way that is likely to get your leaks taken seriously enough to rate a followup (both public interest groups and journalists get far more tips than they can handle, so this is every bit as important as the security advice). He also discusses when you might expect to have to go public -- as with a workplace sexual assault accusation, say -- and how to prepare yourself both mentally and technologically for the inevitable fallout.

    The book ends with a chapter of sample cases and a chapter of advice to journalists and public interest groups who might want to receive leaks of this sort, explaining how to be a good steward of that information and a safe haven for leakers.

    This is an outstanding, simple guide to a daunting and vital subject. Schwartz has done outstanding work explaining the ethical, personal, technical and legal considerations in blowing the whistle.

    A Public Service: Whistleblowing, Disclosure and Anonymity [Tim Schwartz/O/R Books]

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