How to send anonymous email from a Samsung Galaxy
August 7, 2016 11:41 PM   Subscribe

How can I exchange emails with the police while remaining anonymous?

I want to have an ongoing email exchange with the police without sharing my identity. (I want to share information without being pressured to get more involved than I want to be.)

I'd like to do this from a Samsung Galaxy. Is this possible? I often switch from 4G to either my own home Comcast wi-fi or the wi-fi at my office. What I've gotten from the internet is that I need a Tor browser and a paid email account like hushmail. Is that right? Much of what I'm reading is years out of date. Is there anything more convenient or cheaper now?

It's fairly unlikely that my identity would ever be that valuable to know, so I'm not worried about a team of federal agents working around the clock to crack my identity. I just want a layer or two of obfuscation. My original thought was just to set up a gmail throwaway, but maybe I should go one level beyond that. Advice?
posted by salvia to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Get a cheap burner phone and then set up an Gmail account using it? They might be able to suss out your general location so maybe do it somewhere that'd not at work or home and have the phone off when in those locations.
posted by littlesq at 1:04 AM on August 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

You can install and run Orbot to get your phone running over the Tor network easily. I don't think it requires root to run. If any of the methods you end up using do require root, look for an older burner phone with an Android version before 5.1.1 - rooting has become much harder.

If it was me, I'd probably setup a USB stick with TAILS, then do like the movies - pick a random spot on the other side of town, draw a circle, and only use internet cafes and such in that area. This is mostly to avoid the whole phone thing altogether, and if anyone does start snooping, hopefully they start in the wrong place. (Assuming local-cops threat levels rather than TLA/nation-state stuff.)
posted by quinndexter at 2:14 AM on August 8, 2016

Regarding emails, one method is setup a shared email address and use that to communicate. So you setup a throwaway email account with whatever service you like, and then another, shared one for communicating. Use the first to send the login details of the second (or just text from your anonyphone I guess) to your contact. You then communicate by logging in to the shared account, writing a draft, and not sending it. The contact logs in whenever, reads the draft, and can 'reply' the same way. Depending on the nature of your communications, it may be fortuitous that this method means emails need not be sent to, and hence stored on, government servers.
posted by quinndexter at 2:26 AM on August 8, 2016

i think one level beyond gmail throwaway would be to use an email provider in a different country - preferably one that has some kind of commitment to not comply with legal requests that have no force. it looks like runbox are based on norway. they have a month's free trial that doesn't require a credit card, but i haven't checked their policies in detail.
posted by andrewcooke at 3:26 AM on August 8, 2016

Here's what I would do to send anonymous email:

(0) Use a burner phone on public wifi. (Borrowing this step from littesq -- great suggestion if it's affordable/feasible for you, but probably overkill in your case.)

(1) Install Orbot.

(Details: Orbot is an app that can route traffic from apps on your Android phone over the Tor network. Tor is a system of computers all over the world that shuffle traffic so it is very difficult to trace. As far as we know, law enforcement cannot trace traffic over the Tor network.)

(2) Install Orfox.

(Details: Orfox is a version of the Firefox browser that is configured to send all of its traffic through Orbot. It also disables browser features that might give hints about who you are. Orfox is currently marked as beta software and not to be used for strong anonymity. I still think it's safer to use it than try to set up another random browser with Orbot.)

(3) Using Orfox, create an email account at ProtonMail. Use only the web version of ProtonMail via Orfox to sign up and send and receive emails.

(Details: ProtonMail is a free, privacy-focused email service claiming to store all data in Switzerland, and not to store any data that can be used for tracking you or reading your emails. It seems to have a decent reputation, and Wikipedia doesn't mention any evidence contradicting its claims.)

Not counting the burner phone, this will only take a couple of minutes to complete and should give you more than the security you're looking for.


For people who are concerned about serious privacy, notes on how to use a system like this safely:

The system works because you have layers of security: someone receiving your emails would have to break through the layer of security offered by ProtonMail in order to get an IP address; they would then have to break through the layer of security offered by Tor to map that IP address to a phone; they would then have to figure out where the phone is to find you.

This means you have to always use the entire system, or none of it. Use Orfox and nothing else on the burner phone (if you have one); only connect to ProtonMail through the burner phone and Orfox, never connect to ProtonMail directly; only use ProtonMail for anonymous email, don't also send email to someone who knows you. All layers or none.

Remember that your behavior and the contents of your messages can still be used to track you. If you give hints that you're at a given location, and only one person at that location is using Tor, you'll be possible for that team of federal agents to find. Or as another example, using a burner phone isn't a good idea if even having a second phone is going to make people suspicious.

Remember that there is always risk. As far as I know, these steps will make your emails untrackable -- but no engineering is foolproof. Ultimately you have to take the best precautions you can and then take the risks that are worth it to you.

Finally, remember that these privacy tools are made by passionate, often non-profit developers who believe that private speech can be used for good. Respect their efforts and, like you would with any powerful tools, use these tools responsibly.
posted by john hadron collider at 7:32 AM on August 8, 2016 [13 favorites]

A less expensive option, though not as tightly secure as what jhc just suggested is to get UltraSurf (note, there is both a general Windows app as well as a Chrome Plug-in version of this), a MAC address changing tool (Windows alternative), and then use any combination of TOR, ProtonMail and a remote location. Since all of this is would be installed on your existing phone, or a laptop/ tablet, you wouldn't draw any undue attention by also having a second burner phone.

One thing that is rarely mentioned when discussing email anonymity is to make certain that you change your writing "voice". That is, if you have an expansive vocabulary, don't use it. Don't be creative in your sentence structuring- make simple subject-verb-object statements.

I witnessed [person] do [bad thing] on [date]. I have evidence of this:


I witnessed [person] do [other bad thing] on [date].


While it is really unlikely that someone could pin you down based on your writing style, it is like drawing the circle and only using free wifi in those locations. It can only help to further make identifying you that much more difficult.
posted by quin at 8:52 AM on August 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Important addendum on setting up ProtonMail. You will need either another email account already set up or a phone number that can receive SMS in order to activate it (this is true of most free &/or disposable email services). Send the activation code to your burner phone & not an email account tied to your identity.
posted by scalefree at 10:57 PM on August 8, 2016

Response by poster: Many thanks for all the help! I look forward to trying these ideas out.
posted by salvia at 10:05 PM on August 9, 2016

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