Free Software Assures Electronic Privacy [Video]


If you’re worried about the government or other third parties accessing your electronic communications, watch Editorial Director Betsy Kim’s video report on this free software, called Dispatch.

You can find it in the Google or Apple app stores by typing in “Dispatch Reporter.”

Columbia Graduate School of Journalism Assistant Professor Susan McGregor and Columbia University student researchers Mathias Lecuyer and Madeline Ross are working on further developing this software.

“Dispatch is a mobile application that provides secure, encrypted, authenticated communication and publishing for journalists and everyone,” says Susan.

After downloading the software, you choose an ID that is not tied to any of your known electronic identities, such as email, Facebook or Twitter. This way you can preserve your anonymity. Dispatch then assigns you a QR code. You scan your contacts’ QR codes. No one but the users know the senders’ or receivers’ identities.

Your message is fully encrypted, so no one can read it while it’s transmitted. Once the receiver gets your message, it’s deleted off the server. However your message stays on your personal handheld device until you delete it.

Susan McGregor

Susan explains that the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 has not kept up with privacy concerns with developing technology. For example, emails more than 180 days are considered “abandoned” and can be obtained from your service provider with a subpoena. That includes more than just the metadata but the actual content of your messages.

Madeline particularly appreciates the software’s ability also to immediately publish onto a Tumblr blog. This helps journalists in danger zones ensure their stories won’t be confiscated or destroyed but can quickly become public.

Mathias is not worried that this software will be abused by just say, potential terrorists. He believes malicious users already have tools to get around interception. Mathias also appreciates how his work helps protect the right to privacy. “The founding fathers realized that giving freedom of expression and privacy was doing more good to the overall society,” he says.

To see how this software works, watch Betsy’s complete video report.

The Dispatch project was developed through a grant from the Brown Institute for Media and Innovation by an interdiscliplinary team from Columbia University and Stanford University, including Kanak Biscuitwala, Willem Bult, Mathias Lécuyer, Madeline Ross, Augustin Chaintreau, Monica Lam, Chris Haseman and Susan McGregor.

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