The documentary Citizenfour (2014) by Laura Poitras was recently awarded the most prestigious award in the film industry. On stage of the third most televised live events in the world, the Oscars, stood Laura Poitras next to Glen Greenwald and Edward Snowden’s own girlfriend Lindsay Mills to accept the award. In case you didn’t have a … Read More
The documentary Citizenfour (2014) by Laura Poitras was recently awarded the most prestigious award in the film industry. On stage of the third most televised live events in the world, the Oscars, stood Laura Poitras next to Glen Greenwald and Edward Snowden’s own girlfriend Lindsay Mills to accept the award. In case you didn’t have a chance to check out what Citizenfour is all about, it centers around events that led to the release of information by whistleblower Edward Snowden, a historic event where a former intelligence analyst with the highest of data access clearances decides to come forth and tell the world what the United States’ National Security Agency and other intelligent agencies are doing under the umbrella of the war of terror. The type of activities I am talking about are not only unlawful, but also go well beyond the moral right of each individual to have privacy, that is the type of private activities and private thoughts of people who have nothing to do with the war of terror. Such omnipotent power of the intelligence community to monitor not just those who under probable cause are suspects, but anyone or anybody who come within their reach. Apparently they have been doing this incrementally for years and we have come to known thanks to the type of information Edward Snowden provided when he came out to disclose files that sediment the validity of his leaks.
The story of Edward Snowden not only helped us understand the extend of power and the little to none existent privacy we barely posses, it also allowed us to reflect on the types of things we can do, if want to maintain some form of privacy. The types of technology we now have access to can seem so wonderful as to the type of things we can do, I am personally very much in love with the vast potential, this potential however can come at the cost of our privacy, for this I wanted to write about some of the tools and things that exist today, which can give us back the type of online privacy we once possessed:
Perhaps the first step in making your online activity private is starting by making your internet connection private. Signing up for yearly account with a Virtual Private Network (VPN) service is not only a good idea, but a necessity in the world of scarce privacy. Not only does a VPN service makes your online activities hard to pin point, but they also can serve to make you seem like you are surfing the web from a different location. This is because a VPN needs you to connect with a remote through a remote server which masks your Internet Protocol Address or simply IP address, a unique identifier which contains information about you and used to trace you online. When you mask your IP address, you can say use this to log on to Netflix and enjoy the movie offerings for that country or access content that is only allowed for certain country, or perhaps use the VPN service when you travel to you can bypass country’s firewall restrictions to access any site you choose. Essentially, having a VPN service should be must in today’s internet world. Some might say VPN is all you need to maintain privacy, but this is not very truth, all VPN does is making it difficult to outsiders to track you or your activity, however what you do or what put out, send out can still be traced, this is why below there are a couple of things that are still necessary to enjoy some level of security. There are many VPN providers, I would bank my money on IP Vanish, it comes highly recommended and the service goes also mobile with apps for both the Android and Apple devices.
Private Internet Browsing
I am not just talking about private browsing, such as the option of ‘private browsing’ most recent browsers now have to not store internet cookies or log a history of your internet activity. This type of private browsing, should be at the very least, the minimum defense you must take when logging on to online services specially in free WiFi places, such as coffee places, because such free internet hotspots tend to have very unsecured connections. What I mean by private browsing is actually making sure you use a browser that encrypts your internet activity. The Tor internet browser allows you to browse the internet by encrypting your activity but also by using multiple relays, making tracking your activity very difficult by organizations like the NSA. The downside of using Tor is because it relays the internet browsing activity, it tends to give you a slower experience, which can turn off a lot of people.
A private email service or rather an encrypted email service like the one Edward Snowden used to communicate with journalists and documentarians. In the case of Snowden he used Lavabit, but Lavabit has since shut down. There is a promising email encryption service is ProtonMail, it is so because it resides in Switzerland and it is protected by Switzerland’s data protection laws. The technology is already being praised by the internet privacy community as a good service to use for email encryption for true email privacy. At the moment, ProtonMail is beta and you need to request a seat, I think it is worth the wait.
Private Internet Search
By a certain degree, everyone now knows Google does not offer you a private search engine experience, by its very revenue generation Google cannot offer you a search engine privacy, this is how they make their living, of course this and now many more things, but the initial goal was to use our search engine patterns to not only show us ‘relevant’ search results, but also relevant paid advertisements. In fact, Google goes as far as customizing search engine results to the degree of how it ‘learns’ from your search patterns, so it gives you search results according to your online behavior. There exist alternatives to Google, in fact, yeah I am no talking about Bing, but services like DuckDuckGo or StartPage which pride in keeping your internet search activity private and safe.
Text messaging is now the most used form of communication in our current world. Whether it is tweets, Facebook updates, blog comments, YouTube comments or cell phone text messages, short text messaging is our primary choice of communication, in fact so much more so than regular phone calls. So in order to continue to do this and maintain our privacy, best to find an encrypted way to secure our messages are not intercepted. For this a good solution is Pidgin or Adium, if you are Mac user, the software not only allows you to use your current messaging service such as Google Talk, MSN Messenger or AIM, but it also features the ability to enable very descent encryption protocols.
One day data will literally be same as money, in fact in many ways this is already the case, but if we imagine for a second that innovative ideas, inventions, formulas etc. are valuable, then ensuring some of that information you deem to be so precious, there must a way to make that data private, and so there is. Apple has provided such protection via their FileVault 2 software, part of the latest iterations of their operation systems. FileVault will encrypt your data in a form of digital safe, encrypting its contents and generating a unique PIN for your safe keeping. Of course, there will those who will doubt the reliability of Apple to help their users make their data private. After all, Apple also is responsible for iCloud, which has been directly responsible for the leaks of thousands of celebrity photos online. The cloud, in my opinion, can not be considered private, nor safe, as much as cloud computing companies will give you those assurances, therefore keeping something really secure requires for you to covet your data in a physical drive which will also be encrypted. A solution like Symantec’s Endpoint Encryption will allow you to encrypt removable media, meaning portable hard drives where you will have the ability keep safe by your side.
As I mentioned above, data is started to literally be consider money, in many ways this has been the case for a long time, PayPal has been around since 1998 and electronic ways to transfer funds, ever since the internet have also been around. Now, we are contemplating embedding our bank cards, credit cards right into our phones, so we can conveniently make payments using these devices. Despite of this new ways of embedding our current bank accounts into our phones, it is still under the umbrella of the decadent banking system. What is new and exciting is the existence of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, which functions completely outside of the banking system and in addition, cryptocurrencies are counterfeit proof, meaning it is incredibly hard to or impossible to do. Bitcoins are traded from one personal ‘wallet’ to another. A wallet is a small personal database that you store on your computer drive, on your smartphone, on your tablet, or somewhere in the cloud. Bitcoins can also not be traced at the source and purchase history for an individual cannot be tracked, giving the user a peace of mind.
In the world we live today, the word ‘privacy’ is no longer a given right, nowadays privacy takes effort, it takes work to create privacy in fact. I hope the above points serve as a way to begin thinking on how or why it is important to regain your privacy.