8 tips to enhance your online privacy
Is real online privacy possible? Should it be? Experts say there are ways to make invasive monitoring (including government surveillance) difficult, but not impossible
July 24, 2013 — CSO —
Everybody wants a measure of privacy. As some experts on the topic have pointed out, even those who declare they have "nothing to hide" generally have curtains on the windows of their homes and don't invite everybody over to have a look at their credit card statements.
But in light of recent revelations from Edward Snowden, the former Booz Allen Hamilton employee who leaked top-secret documents about the extent of National Security Agency (NSA) data collection, and more recent news about government monitoring even snail mail, there are serious questions about whether privacy — particularly online and telephone — is possible at any level any more.
The answer from a number of experts is a qualified yes — as in possible, but not likely. As Kevin McAleavey, cofounder and chief architect of the KNOS Project noted, "even Booz Allen Hamilton (and by extension the NSA) can't keep their stuff private. If the 'experts' can't keep their stuff under wraps, what possible chance does Judy Consumer have?"
Privacy experts say there are two ways to keep government monitors out of your life. One is to withdraw as much as possible from the wired world. That would mean ditching your smartphone, or if you have to use one for your job, to turn it off and remove the battery when you don't need it, since otherwise it will broadcast your location.
That also includes conducting no business online, and not ever sending an email or posting anything on social media that you don't want collected and stored by the government.
It is a bit like the political advice that the public policy think tank Pioneer Institute attributes to Martin Lomasney, an old Boston political boss: "Never write if you can speak; never speak if you can nod; never nod if you can wink." The disgraced former governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer, gave it an update on his Wikipedia page: "Never put it in email."
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), in a list of privacy recommendations, includes this: "Unless you take specific technical measures to protect your communications against wiretapping or traffic analysis —such as using encryption to scramble your messages — your best defense is to use the communications methods that possess the strongest and clearest legal protections: face-to-face conversations, postal mail and landline telephones."
Even nation-states are taking the Luddite approach in some cases. Just recently, it was reported that the Russian equivalent of the U.S. Secret Service is using typewriters again, to avoid generating digital copies of highly sensitive documents.