J. D. Heyes
June 25, 2013
In the wake of recent revelations that the National Security Agency (NSA) and other government snoops are monitoring the electronic communications of U.S. citizens, millions of us wanted to know what, if anything, we could do to protect our email, cell phone conversations, chat sessions from Big Brother in the future.
Now, granted, the technological capabilities of the NSA are massive. And, as was revealed in subsequent news reports following the initial revelations about the NSA, tech companies and Internet Service Providers are in cahoots with the government, so they’re not going to protect you. Further, the Fourth Amendment appears to mean nothing to the Obama Aadministration.
What’s a poor, hapless citizen to do? First off, take a deep breath and read on. There are things you can do.
‘Pretty Good Privacy’
Not every communication can be tracked and eavesdropped on by the government, however, and there are ways to reduce the chances of being snooped on. First, instead of browsing the Internet in a way that reveals your IP address, you can mask your identity by using an anonymizing tool like Tor (https://www.torproject.org) or by connecting to the Web using a Virtual Private Network (https://www.torproject.org). Additionally, you can avoid Google search by using an alternative like Ixquick (https://ixquick.com/eng/), which has solid privacy credentials and says it does not log any IP addresses or search terms or share information with third parties.
Want to send protected email? You can do that as well. If you happen to be using a commercial email provider like Google, Yahoo! or another service identified as having been co-opted by PRISM, the NSA’s snoop program, you can certainly slow down the agency by sending and receiving emails encrypted with PGP (Pretty Good Privacy), which has been around for years, or a free alternative, GPG (http://www.gnupg.org/). Both of these products can be used to encrypt and decrypt email messages – unless, however, you have Trojan spyware installed on your machine.
“Novice computer users learning how to use PGP or GPG may find it a daunting prospect at first, but there are plenty of tutorials online for both Mac and Windows users that can help guide you through the process,” says Slate
If you happen to be a journalist and you are working with confidential sources or an attorney seeking to protect attorney-client conversations – or if you just require security communications – learning how to use either of these protective programs will be a must in the near- and long-term.
Organizations or firms could go even further and stop using a third-party service and instead set up their own email server, “helping ensure no secret court orders can be filed to gain covert access to confidential files,” Slate reports. Private documents can be stored online, if necessary, and kept shielded using Cloudfogger (http://www.cloudfogger.com/en/) in conjunction withDropbox.
Instant messaging and phone or video chats can be better protected if you avoid using Microsoft and Google-based services such as Skype and Gchat and instead adopt more secure forms of communication. Those include Jitsi (https://jitsi.org/), which can be utilized for peer-to-peer calls video calls that are encrypted.
Set-up takes some time but it’ll be worth it
For instant messaging and online phone or video chats, you can avoid Microsoft and Google services like Skype and Gchat by adopting more secure alternatives. Jitsi can be used for peer-to-peer encrypted video calls, and for encrypted instant message chats you can try using an “off the record” plugin with Pidgin for Windows users or Adium for Mac.
“Like using PGP encryption, both Pidgin and Adium can take a little bit of work to set up – but there are tutorials to help ease the pain, like this (www.encrypteverything.ca) for setting up Adium and this (https://securityinabox.org/en/pidgin_securechat) tutorial for Pidgin,” Slate notes.
Technology advances have made it nearly effortless for governments to spy on citizens. While this practice is common in other countries, the U.S. Constitution, under the Fourth Amendment, absolutely prohibits the kind of blanket surveillance being conducted by the NSA. That the agency received permission to do so from the FISA court – which conducts its business in secret – is not the same thing as having the authority to do so. If that were the case federal courts could grant any number of federal agencies permission to violate every single provision of the Constitution.
That said, it is highly unlikely those responsible for ordering the NSA to spy on American citizens are going to be reprimanded, so the best thing you can do in the meantime is protect your electronic communications as best as you can.
Sources for this article include:
This article was posted: Tuesday, June 25, 2013 at 5:36 am