In an era where press freedom is under an unprecedented assault globally, a new online service known as Deadswitch is working to help restore balance. According to the 2023 World Press Freedom Index, attacks against journalists are increasing worldwide. In 2022 alone, 67 journalists were brutally murdered and 363 imprisoned. Amid this bleak backdrop, Deadswitch is striving to offer a layer of protection for these brave frontline messengers. By providing an online ‘dead man’s switch’ service, Deadswitch enables the targeted exposure of public-interest material in the event that the person holding the information is incapacitated or otherwise prevented from doing so themselves.
According to its founder, security researcher Jacob Riggs, Deadswitch operates on a simple principle. A user encrypts data client-side in their browser, then uploads the data to the service and nominates their desired recipients. If the user is unable to terminate their switch, the data is automatically released to those recipients after a set period of time. This automated process allows for time-sensitive material to be assessed and disseminated to the public in a responsible and calculated way, even in circumstances where state actors attempt to suppress such activities.
The chilling effect on free press is not only a threat to journalists but to society at large. Following the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia, for instance, self-censorship increased among journalists in the region. Fear of retaliation led to diminished reporting on critical issues. Prominent award-winning journalist Julian Assange remains arbitrarily detained, without charge, in a maximum-security prison, further serving as another grim reminder of the risks faced by journalists worldwide.
Deadswitch seeks to disrupt the landscape by leveraging innovation and cryptography to render the use-of-force obsolete. The service’s core promise is to ensure that the truth sees the light of day, regardless of the measures employed to keep it hidden. As state power continues to grow, services like Deadswitch offer a critical safeguard, providing an assurance that the public-interest material will be released, even when its custodian faces the possibility of dire state intervention.
The functionality of Deadswitch can be likened to the concept of ‘mutually assured destruction,’ used as a form of deterrence in nuclear warfare. In the case of Deadswitch, any attempt to incapacitate a user and prevent the termination of the switch would trigger the exact event that the intervention sought to prevent – the release of the information.
This strategy harnesses the ‘Streisand effect’, where attempts to hide or censor information lead to its wider dissemination. By creating a credible threat of exposure, Deadswitch deters violent acts against journalists, ultimately enhancing the reliability and impact of their work.
In a world where custodians of truth are increasingly at risk, Deadswitch stands as a beacon of hope. The platform seeks to guarantee that no journalist has to fear their deliverance of facts. By ensuring that threats to press freedom don’t equate to the stifling of truth, Deadswitch is playing a crucial role in digital disruption, the fight for free and fair reporting, and helping to safeguard the foundational principles of any functioning democracy.