In theory, it's simple. If you want to send an untraceable e-mail, you can message one of the numerous people on the Internet who offer a forwarding service. You include the final recipient's address, and the remailer's computer automatically strips off your identity and forwards the message. It's supposedly so easy that even Hollywood has got in on the act; it was a key plot device behind both Copycat with Sigourney Weaver and Disclosure.
In reality, though, it's all horribly complicated. Remailers take flak from just about everybody. Privacy freaks hate them because, they say, the remailer still knows your real identity. The media hates them because they have been implicated (largely unfairly) in allowing people to shift pornography around. And I hate them, too. Why? Because I can't get them to work. I've tried sending messages through every remailer I can find. They've either bounced back or vanished into the ether.
The image of remail as a breeding ground for subversion almost certainly contributes to its unreliability. None of the operations that I know of are run as businesses. They tend to be based in universities and run by liberal-minded academics who are more interested in the principle of free speech than supplying a reliable service.
Proponents of remailers point out that, in the past, they have been used by battered wives to contact news groups, and by people living under oppressive regimes to get news to the outside world. One thing they do reveal, though, is just how paranoid some people are and just how far they'll go in order to protect their "privacy". Remailers cater for this by offering increasingly esoteric services. Some, for example, hold on to messages for a random duration before passing them on. This is to stop your "enemy" correlating the time you send your messages with the time they arrive at the recipient, thus revealing your identity.
Anyway, this doesn't solve my problem, so a suitable prize is on offer to the first person who can e-mail me (anonymously, of course) outlining the best way to do it. The catch, obviously, is that you'll have to include your name and address.
Anonymous remailer Websites
An excellent introduction, if a little out of date, to how remailers work and why some people believe them to be an indispensable part of the Internet.
A regularly updated list of remailers, detailing which services each offers and how reliable they are.
A fairly technical but accessible essay, going into some detail about how remailers function.
If you need an indication as to just how paranoid some people are, this site gives a rather over-the-top explanation as to why we all supposedly need anonymous remailers.Reuse content