Overview. Wave after wave of increasingly spectacular data breaches are exposing personal information about billions of people, companies, countries, and other organizations around the world. The dark web includes some of this information and every manner of other content -- legal and illegal, ethical and unethical, innocuous and offensive, authentic and fraudulent. The damage these activities are causing is well known. What is not known, and what we are now studying, is whether we might be able to find a silver lining in these dark clouds by creating some social good out of all this chaos. If you know of data or information like this that might be useful for academic research, we would appreciate hearing from you.
How to Contact Us. You may contact us via encrypted text (on Signal at 339-337-2605) or PGP-encrypted email (to firstname.lastname@example.org using our public key). An even more secure way to contact us is with our state-of-the-art SecureDrop site, the first ever anonymous email and file transfer site with a scholarly research mission, set up at a university. (SecureDrop is an extremely secure technique used by the New York Times, Washington Post, Guardian, and other media outlets to receive communications from whistleblowers. We have worked extensively with the Freedom of the Press Foundation to modify the SecureDrop infrastructure, and contribute to their open source codebase, so that their techniques work in a university environment with the same high security level.) Secure Drop encrypts both communication content and all records of any communication.
Help for Scholars. Some scholars have published using dark web data that skirt legal regulations and university rules, creating risks for themselves, their universities, the journals, and the scholarly community. This may be particularly dangerous given heightened cybersecurity risks. These scholars are balancing these risks with the public good that may result from their scholarly analyses. The SilverLining Project aims to reduce the need for balancing, reduce these risks, and thus open up more data for scholarly analysis. We have extensively studied how to meet the complex web of international legal, regulatory, university, and ethical standards; obtained many such datasets; built extensive security, IT, networking, and air gapped physical infrastructure that enables us to safely work with these data; and continue to obtain, document, clean, de-identify, archive, and analyze what we find. Launching this project involved many years of preliminary study, coding, and negotiation with Harvard University’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science, Institutional Review Board, Office of General Counsel, Information Technology Office, Public Affairs and Communications Office, Office of Sponsored Programs, and Offices of the President and Provost, and many others. We are also working on papers that show how others can appropriately use this information scholarly analysis.
Guidelines. If you wish to release information for immediate public consumption, consider contacting one of the news organizations with a SecureDrop site. As social scientists, our goal is to understand and ameliorate the greatest challenges that afflict human societies, using the most scientifically rigorous procedures, no matter how long it takes. The legal rules and regulations governing us, and all university academics, are substantially more restrictive than those of news outlets, private companies, government agencies, and other organizations. Please do not hack systems for the purpose of obtaining data unlawfully; we also cannot offer compensation for what you share with us but, if you do share information with us, you may contribute to the creation of considerable social good, which could benefit everyone.
A Note to Journalists. If you come across confidential data, we'd love to have a conversation about extending the impact of your work. While you seek to breaking new now, we aim to generate scientific knowledge over the long term. Sharing data with us will enable you to contribute to both the short and long term -- without hurting your own goals. In fact, we are legally prohibited from giving informative data to your competitors, or anyone else, or from scooping you on (or even writing about) the subjects journalists emphasize. We also have a long history of dealing appropriately with highly sensitive data, working closely with journalists, and developing novel methods to generate insights from complicated data that we can share with, or develop for, you. We can also of course provide you access to our scholarly findings.
Who We Are. Our project is hosted at Harvard University's Institute for Quantitative Social Science (IQSS), which has long been at the forefront of research using sensitive, large-scale data to create public good. We reverse engineered Chinese government censorship and fabrication of social media posts and helped allow privacy-protected researcher access to Facebook data. IQSS' Privacy Insights Project designs technology for protecting the privacy of individuals and groups in research data, and our international, open source Dataverse project now manages the largest collection of social science research data in the world. Our team includes Aaron Kaufman, Assistant Professor of Political Science, New York University Abu Dhabi (IQSS affiliate and recent Harvard graduate); Gary King, Albert J Weatherhead III University Professor, and Director of IQSS; Zagreb Mukerjee, Research Data Scientist, IQSS, Harvard University; Zach Wehrwein, Doctoral Student in Sociology, Harvard University.