Confidential tips

Print More

Pixabay

Our mission is to spur reform by exposing abuses of power by government, business and other institutions through high-impact investigative journalism. Here's how you can share evidence of wrongdoing with us while keeping your identity secure.

What makes a good tip?

If you can find a piece of information through a web search or in an official public document, then it's not something that requires secure communication. Feel free to pass it along to one of our staff.

Sometimes, sources want to pass information that is not sanctioned for official release. It might be a confidential email from an elected official, an internal report that identifies problems with a product or a policy, a document that proves an official lied to a media outlet — anything that shows behavior in the public or private sector that is illegal, unethical or harmful to the public interest. If you're in the public or private sector and come across something that troubles you, consider passing it to us.

Journalists typically use information like this as the start of an investigation. That means your tip, by itself, is not something we would usually publish at once. Rather, it might spur us to start asking certain questions and pursuing certain leads.

That also means documents are a critical part of a successful confidential tip — one that spurs an investigation that leads to reform of the problem. Documents establish who knew about something and when they knew it. They lay down a paper trail that connects parties who might otherwise deny a connection. That's why we prefer documents in all cases over a simple tip or a story suggestion.

We will protect the identity of confidential sources to the full extent the law allows. But you should also take steps to protect yourself. While no communication method is completely secure, there are steps you can take to minimize the chances that someone can intercept your message or connect a particular message to you. The three methods below range from simple to fairly complex — in general, the more involved the process, the more secure the communication.

Method 1: Through the U.S. mail

Anyone who wants to intercept and open a letter without a return address while it is in transit would need a warrant to do so. That means an anonymous mailing is actually the simplest way to pass documents to journalists, and is also one of the most secure.

Place the documents as printed hard copies or files saved on an electronic storage device (thumb drive, CD, etc.) into an envelope addressed to:

Searchlight New Mexico
202 E. Marcy Street
Santa Fe, NM 87501

Drop it into a mailbox away from your usual route to work or home. Do not put a return address on the envelope. Don't mail it from work, from home or from a post office, and be sure to use adequate postage.

Method 2: With a secure app

WhatsApp and Signal are free apps for Apple and Android devices that encrypt messages and voice calls, making it hard or impossible for someone to intercept or eavesdrop. You can use one of them to securely speak to a reporter and to share texts, photos or documents. The apps are free, highly regarded by digital security experts and simple to set up with your existing cellphone number. These links explain how to get and use Signal and WhatsApp, and a list of Searchlight staff who use them is farther down the page.

Method 3: Through encrypted email

Some of our staff use encrypted email through PGP. In short, PGP allows someone to send an email that is encrypted in a way that the recipient — and only the recipient — can unscramble. Read more about how PGP works here.

To use it, you'll have to do a few things to set it up on your computer. These links explain how to do it on a Windows machine and on Mac OSX.

Note that while PGP encrypts the contents of an email, it does not encrypt the sender, the recipient, the subject or the time it was sent. For additional security, consider setting up a new, anonymous email account to use with PGP. Do not use your work email.

Contact our staff securely

We will pass mail sent to the postal address above to the correct staff member if you don't specify anyone. You can also reach out to the people below:

  • John R. Roby, data editor, is interested in issues of transparency and open data. Reach him on Signal at 505.470.0231. His PGP public key is B422 4AE9 2665 F858.
  • Contact reporter Lauren Villagran on Signal or WhatsApp at 505.235.6908.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *