The benefit of the doubt no longer cuts it.
We are constantly tracked and monitored in our activities online. By corporations, governments, and other organizations. Our web presence leaves a digital fingerprint wherever we go. Our web browser leaves a trail of cookie crumbs. Governments can, and do, listen in on our emails. The largest of the world’s internet providers and content creators use this information to market and advertise to us, as well as hand over our personal information to government agencies like the NSA. Surveillance is the antithesis of an open and democratic society.
In light of the recent news it is obvious that any trust we once had is now broken. The global internet is being abused. We cannot trust our service providers to respect our privacy.
Why is the issue hard to solve?
We can try to take matter into our own technological hands. But the technological gap is large for most. Securing your web browser, email, instant messaging, social networks, et cetera, is a major inconvenience for the average internet surfer. Many who are tech savvy are complacent to do so. It’s a lot of extra work that many people don’t feel they have the time to commit–a major inconvenience.
It’s an uphill battle. Many people don’t even understand the technology. The process for PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) encrypting email and OTR (Off-the-record) instant messaging can be a pain in the ass. Especially when the person you are trying to communicate with doesn’t fully understand why.
We also need political support. Our lawmakers must understand the implications of surveillance with regards to modern technology–many don’t. Without representatives in government working to reign in spy agencies all of the security and encryption measures an individual can implement may not be enough.
Why is this important?
Simply put: privacy is important. The Groklaw farewell post really hit this home for me. Especially in the quote from a book by Janna Malamud Smith,”Private Matters: In Defense of the Personal Life”:
One way of beginning to understand privacy is by looking at what happens to people in extreme situations where it is absent. Recalling his time in Auschwitz, Primo Levi observed that “solitude in a Camp is more precious and rare than bread.” Solitude is one state of privacy, and even amidst the overwhelming death, starvation, and horror of the camps, Levi knew he missed it…. Levi spent much of his life finding words for his camp experience. How, he wonders aloud in Survival in Auschwitz, do you describe “the demolition of a man,” an offense for which “our language lacks words.”…
One function of privacy is to provide a safe space away from terror or other assaultive experiences. When you remove a person’s ability to sequester herself, or intimate information about herself, you make her extremely vulnerable….
The totalitarian state watches everyone, but keeps its own plans secret. Privacy is seen as dangerous because it enhances resistance. Constantly spying and then confronting people with what are often petty transgressions is a way of maintaining social control and unnerving and disempowering opposition….
And even when one shakes real pursuers, it is often hard to rid oneself of the feeling of being watched — which is why surveillance is an extremely powerful way to control people. The mind’s tendency to still feel observed when alone… can be inhibiting. … Feeling watched, but not knowing for sure, nor knowing if, when, or how the hostile surveyor may strike, people often become fearful, constricted, and distracted.
What can we do? Protest.
Taking to the streets (of the internet). My protest is akin to tearing down the billboards and advertising lining the (information) highways while wearing a mask (encryption + privacy measures). Also tearing down the (virtual) CCTV cameras.
Some argue that encryption and privacy measures we can take as individuals may not be enough on their own. Maybe not. But we can still add noise and make the surveillance more difficult. It’s a protest, not a revolution yet.
Now for some specifics. My protest against internet surveillance and monitoring, the breaking of trust, will take on the following form:
Mozilla’s Firefox Browser
Avoiding Chrome, Safari, and Internet Explorer. Google, Apple, and Microsoft have been shown complicit in the NSA’s surveillance.
Using Mozilla you can protect your privacy further with the following addons:
- AdBlock Plus
Mozilla’s Thunderbird email + Enigmail plugin
Enigmail provides PGP signing and encryption for Thunderbird. Start signing your emails. All of them. Show others how to do so.
Get off of email through your web browser. Some people are required to use Microsoft’s Outlook. If so, you can still do PGP: https://code.google.com/p/outlook-privacy-plugin/
Drop gmail and other email providers based in the United States. I am moving to self-hosted email servers under my physical control.
Stop using instant messaging through social media. No Facebook chat, gchat, Yahoo, AOL, Microsoft messenger, et al. Download Pidgin or Adium. Use OTR (off-the-record) encrypted communication only.
Should we delete our Facebook and Google+ accounts entirely. It might come to that but I’m not there yet. Don’t use them for private conversations. Don’t share anything you wouldn’t say in front of auditorium of people. Think of their services as an outlet for public speaking.
Goodbye Cloud Backups
Like email I am removing all personal and private files from cloud storage services. Deleting my accounts. Moving my backups to in-house with external access over secure connection only (SSH).
Another solution, which I haven’t tried but has been recommended to me is OwnCloud.
Search Engines: DuckDuckGo and StartPage
Why use DuckDuckGo? Because, Privacy. StartPage is a way of searching using Google’s results but doing so anonymously, without being tracked.
It’s a start. Helping friends implement these measures is important too. As well as contacting your member of parliament or congress. This protest is gaining momentum as I write this and some estimate this will cost the US tech industry billions of dollars.
I want a certain degree of privacy and control over my ability to communicate with trusted friends. I do not want to be the subject of totalitarian government measures, e.g. surveillance and warrantless wiretapping. History has shown us time again how that will turn out if we continue down that path.