Nobody ever got their rights (or kept them) by asking politely. You gain and maintain rights by seizing, defending and (most importantly) using them. That rights are fundamental, inalienable or guaranteed make for comforting aphorisms to sprinkle around a constitution, treaty or declaration in need of some livening up, but it’s observably not true. Laws are fluid, and subject to change given sustained attempts to do so. When you ask something from government, even when you “demand” it, you’re still telling it that is has the authority to grant or deny that which you think ought to be yours. That’s the wrong way around. First, you need to act to show that it’s yours and then invite government the opportunity to recognize that reality. This is the case with the right to privacy and anonymity: It is yours now. The government simply has a difficult time recognizing that. Corporations, more so. You just need to know how to use it.
At just $20 million per year, the NSA can outsource electronic intelligence gathering to PRISM. Other systems allow for tapping more digital communications, and mobile technology, such as the recent flap around Verizon. PRISM is just one such incredibly invasive internet surveillance program out there. It can be used to monitor your Hotmail, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Skype, file transfers and other activity.
Using PRISM, there’s about a 1 in 10,102 chance that someone suspected of being a terrorist may actually be doing something remotely suspicious. So that’s not what it’s about. Targets aren’t important, that comes later if you should ever be seen as inconvenient. What this means is that the government will get further degraded and meaningless intelligence devoid of insight, and more people who are not threats will be caught up in investigations that are less about terrorism or major crimes and more about the whims of whatever administration happens squatting in the White House at any given time.
Now, on this blog I’m not going to say not to use those services. That would be silly. Be conscious of how you use them and when you use them. Think about why you’re using them. This runs counter to the digital age consumer culture, in which everything is advertised as “it just works” or offers to be a plug-and-play solution. The whole notion around these slogans is to dissuade consumers from thinking about what they’re doing. It may just work, but at doing what precisely? This means people have to start thinking of communication systems in complex ways, which is counter to what you’re supposed to think you can do. Head aches may occur, but you’ll soon build up a tolerance.
It is not necessary that everything you do in life needs be in a private, walled off garden of anonymity. I use quite a number of the above listed services on a regular basis, and don’t plan on stopping. I will continue to not use them when I think there’s a reason for specific communications. Just as in the real world, conducting yourself that way online all the time would be exhausting and mostly needless. What is necessary is maintaining for yourself the choice, just as you have offline. You can shout things, or whisper them.
Below are some (copy pasted) key ways to exercise your anonymity and privacy in digital space:
- Browser Privacy: HTTPS Everywhere, AdBlock Plus + EasyList, Ghostery, NoScript (FireFox), NotScript (Chrome)
- VPNs: BTGuard (Canada), ItsHidden (Africa), Ipredator (Sweden), Faceless.me (Cyprus / Netherlands)
- Internet Anonymization: Tor, Tor Browser Bundle, I2P
- Disk Encryption: TrueCrypt (Windows / OSX / Linux), File Vault (Mac).
- File/Email Encryption: GPGTools + GPGMail (Mac), Enigmail (Windows / OSX / Linux)
- IM Encryption: Pidgin + Pidgin OTR
- IM/Voice Encryption: Mumble, Jitsi
- Phone/SMS Encryption: WhisperSystems, Ostel, Spore, Silent Circle ($$$)
- Google search alternative: DuckDuckGo
- Digital P2P Currency: BitCoin
- Live Anonymous/Secure Linux: TAILS Linux
If you have any problems installing or using the above software, please contact the projects. They would love to get feedback and help you use their software. Have no clue what Cryptography is or why you should care? Checkout the Crypto Party Handbook or the EFF’s Surveillance Self-Defense Project. Just want some simple tips? Checkout EFF’s Top 12 Ways to Protect Your Online Privacy.
If you liked this, feel free to copy/paste it.
Update: Anonymous leaked the following trove of NSA documents. Isn’t a lack of privacy fun, now? What I don’t figure out is how these people expect to run something with the technological complexity of PRISM when they can’t fathom how to properly format something as ridiculously simple as a Powerpoint file or a Word doc.
- 2010 EA Conf_RA Track Presentation_20100506.ppt