Freedom of the Press Foundation

James Dolan, who co-created SecureDrop, dead at 36

He worked alongside Aaron Swartz to develop the whistleblower system.


David Gilmour

Layer 8

Published Jan 9, 2018   Updated May 22, 2021, 5:20 am CDT

Computer security expert and Iraq War veteran James Dolan, who created the widely used open-source whistleblower submission system SecureDrop alongside the late internet activist Aaron Swartz and journalist Kevin Poulsen, has died at age 36.

The Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF), for which Dolan had previously worked, made the announcement in an article on the organization’s website Tuesday. The organization reported Dolan took his own life. 

The announcement triggered an outpouring of heartfelt tributes from both journalists and activists, among them the organization’s executive director Trevor Timm who tweeted that Dolan was “an amazing talent and a wonderful person [who] will be sorely missed.”

Dolan first worked on the SecureDrop prototype—which at the time was called DeadDrop—in 2012 with Swartz and Poulsen, who is now an editor at WIRED. The system allows media organizations to securely accept document submissions from anonymous sources and has become a staple facility for major journalistic publications like the New York Times and Washington Post.

When Swartz took his own life in 2013 at age 26, Dolan was considered the only technical mind with a full understanding of the program. He joined FPF and reworked the installation process, helping newsrooms across the country integrate the technology.

Dolan is reported to have often cited his experience as a marine in the Iraq War as a major motivation in enabling radical transparency and government accountability by helping journalists and whistleblowers connect.

Details of any memorial services have not been finalized, but Timm encouraged those who knew Dolan to get in touch with his organization.

For more information about suicide prevention or to speak with someone confidentially, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (U.S.) or Samaritans (U.K.).

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*First Published: Jan 9, 2018, 5:58 pm CST