Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A Guide to Anonymous Civil Servant Blogging

First the commentary from us right wingers was all praise for Civil Serf, then the civil servants who do blog, as Sam Coates at the Times points out started to say that she had broken trust etc etc and just generally annoyed them.

I don't agree with them personally, the Internet provides the means to stand up and keep a public diary anonymously if you want, the key is how to do it and not be caught, and, as much as people think you will be, it does not have to be that way. So here's a quick bullet point Anonymous Civil Servant Code for Blogging Anonymously and being honest about the absurdity in your workplace.
  1. Do all the posts on your blog, or comments on other blogs, using something like Tor. It's not guaranteed but it makes the possibility of someone tracing you that little bit harder.
  2. Do not do posts from work, do them in the evening or morning. If the bosses suspect you and you do it from the work network it won't take long for their suspicions to be confirmed.
  3. Don't take blog hosting on a UK based service. If your writing does upset the authorities they will go to the source. Being stateside is much better. Again not guaranteed of course.
  4. Gender switch your blogging personality, as well as changing your age.
  5. Make up a silly department name that is almost believable but doesn't really exist. Take PC Bloggs as a reference guide. She works in Blandmore. Amusing see?
  6. Think of your posts as satire and not reality. Take the truth and the absurdities that are grating you and exaggerate them just enough that the reader is left knowing there is a truth hidden within the words but not left knowing the home address of your boss.
  7. If you are going to write about some project with name X, make sure it is in the public domain first. If it isn't then at least wait a few weeks until you could easily have been told it by someone and are just writing satirically.
  8. Pay no attention to those who say anonymous bloggers must have an agenda. You're just posting what you see and offering your take on the world.
  9. If you get interest media via email and like ignore it. Do not engage with anyone unless they're offering you a book deal for the rights of a few years of postings in which case you can quit anyway.
It is entirely possible for someone working in the echelons of the Government machine to have a blog, do it anonymously, and lift the lid on the daily nonsense without getting caught. You just have to change the names to protect the guilty and not make it so the time between posts and events is easily cross-referenced.


anthonynorth said...

Having worked with Civil Servants in the past, you've got to be exact. They only work from guidelines. Hence you've forgotten:

'And for God's sake, don't name your boss.'

Anonymous said...

your Tor link doesn't work

dizzy said...

Fixed. Ta.

Pete Chown said...

If you use something like Tor, it should protect your anonymity, provided you use it properly. It's easy to make a mistake when setting Tor up, though, and then you could be leaking information without realising it. As Dizzy says, hosting outside the UK helps a bit with this: it will be harder for the authorities to get information. It also makes it harder for the authorities to get the blog shut down.

I came across a company in Nigeria that offers hosting. There are no terms and conditions; what are you going to do, sue them in a Nigerian court? There is also no AUP. Presumably that is because they don't care what you host. If it wasn't dodgy, you wouldn't host it in Nigeria, would you?

There is no point in choosing somewhere as corrupt as Nigeria, but if you want to be anonymous, I wonder if it makes sense to pick somewhere that's off the beaten track. Getting information from a small third world country could be much harder than getting it from the Americans.

Anonymous said...

Just a suggestion, but I've been using a pay as you go 3G modem for some time.
£99 initial cost & £10pm for a GB. Pay cash & give a fictitious address. Postcode of the Jobcentre's fun or maybe a particularly irksome government minister's home address.
If I really wanted to be secure, I'd only liven up the modem at neutral locations so it couldn't be traced geographically through the service provider.

Anne Murphy said...

gender switch? why miss dizzy, you're beautiful!

Anonymous said...

You should anticipate being caught. I would read up on the measures the Sunday Times used to catch Zoe Margolis (iirc she mentioned films she worked on once or twice and the journos cross-referenced the relevant credits).

While the situation is different it illustrates that any information at all may be used to identify people, especially if the audience: politicos, journalists and other civil servants have spent years identifying anonymous briefers from the papers.

This rather undermines the point of blogging. What makes these things interesting for the reader is access to detail you would not otherwise get, not confirmation of right/left wing prejudices about how bureaucracies work. Once anything worthwhile enters the mix, you will be spotted.

penny southwell said...

Ah - some good tips - BUT - I have been watching the BBC 'drama' 'Enemy Within .... ' Gulp.

tory boys never grow up said...

And what attention do you think that Civil Servants should pay to the Official Secrets Act which they have signed and commited to? Or is that only of relevance to people like Clive Ponting and Sarah Tisdall when they blow the whistle on a Tory Government.

You may not like it but the Official Secrets Act cannot be ignored.

dizzy said...

Considering I have not said "publish all secets you kow that are covered by the OSA" the point you're making is completely moot.

tory boys never grow up said...

Not really since practically everything is covered by the OSA - have a look at the declaration that everyone signs.

dizzy said...

Yes really because I made it quite clear that iof you're going to be a civil servant and blog you should make it funny and removed from reality.

pennysouthwell said...

Well that should be easy enough as I think all civil serpents are removed from reality, whether they are funny or not - well that is another question...

Anonymous said...

There is no such thing as anonymity on the Internet. If someone has the will and the means to find you, they will do it.

Matt said...

As long as secrets do not effect national security, I do not think as a tax payer your point stands up.

Yes I know that the OSA is a legal document, but I believe that in the interest of democracy and transparency that we learn as much as possible about the inner workings of government possible.

How is the government expecting to engage with the public if it sits behind a wall of silence?

Blog on Civil servants!

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