How to speak securely with High Country News

Facts still matter. We’d love to hear from you.

 

Since President Donald Trump assumed office, worries have circulated in the scientific and environmental communities about whether he will clamp down on communications and scientific research into climate change, among other issues. Several actions fueled those worries, including comments from top advisor Steve Bannon that referred to the press as “the opposition party” and requirements that all documents flowing out of key agencies undergo review or be held back.

Some of it may be self-censorship. In January, for example, top officials at a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture admitted a memo that was widely perceived as a gag order in keeping with the Trump’s administration’s actions to limit press access was in fact self-imposed. A communication officer told Science that the agency’s policies had not changed and the memo was poorly worded.

Nevertheless, the American press has increasingly had to battle for access. For decades, whistleblowers, leakers and sources have helped provide the information necessary to hold the government accountable. The Obama administration put in motion much to limit the press’ ability to access documents through Freedom of Information Act requests and to contact knowledgeable sources within the government. At High Country News, we’ve encountered increasingly restrictive policies in contacting or interviewing Forest Service and other land agency employees. Information has been slow to come by, press officers have on occasion hampered reporters’ efforts to get basic questions answered, and Freedom of Information Act requests can linger for months.

At High Country News, we still believe that a healthy democracy depends on the ability of a free press to deliver accurate, factual information to the public. Our interest remains in diving deeply into the issues that are critical to the health of the American West, and we need the help of our readers, now more than ever, to do that. In recent years, we’ve turned to tip forms and other methods to investigate matters that hold our public officials accountable, no matter how uncomfortable the truth may be. Our readers have responded en masse, and we hope you will continue to do so.

We recognize, however, an increasing need for secure communications, under a presidential administration and a Congress that appear hostile to a free press and to sources willing to speak to reporters. What follows is a security protocol to protect sources and encourage you, our readers, to come forward with information important to public debate.

Here are a few helpful links on how to establish first contact (the most insecure part of the process), how to protect your identity and when to leak.

While no digital communication is 100 percent secure, we believe the following steps can help protect the identity of parties interested in speaking with our reporters.

  1. Online tip forms

These are anonymous, and we will protect the identity of the sources who use them to the best of our ability. If you are a government employee, do not include your government email or visit them on a government device.

If you wish to report sexual harassment or a lack of action in response to sexual harassment accusations, contact us here.

If you wish to report the suppression, destruction, alteration of research or public land information, contact us here.

For other general tips, contact us here.

  1. Text message via Signal

Several of our editors use Signal, a cell phone app that is encrypted for making calls or sending texts or images. Signal does not retain metadata on users’ calls, meaning communications are secure and untraceable. You can contact editors on Signal, and we’ll put you in touch with our reporters through secure channels. 

Editor-in-Chief Brian Calvert

Signal: 909-800-5101

Deputy Editor – Digital Kate Schimel

Signal: 303-250-8117

  1. Land line

Call our office from someone else’s phone and ask for one of our editors or writers. You can find a staff list here. Our office number is 970-527-4898.

  1. U.S. Postal Service

Old-fashioned, simple and secure: send us physical documents or digital files on a USB in an envelope with no return address.

Our address is PO Box 1090, Paonia, CO, 81428.

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