Seattle Privacy co-founder Jacob Appelbaum explains in this Democracy Now clip what happens to a democracy that is placed under total surveillance. Like David Miranda, who on Sunday was held and interrogated for nine hours under a terrorism law at London’s Heathrow airport, Jacob has been harassed for years when crossing international borders. Why? David is the partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald, who has written about the NSA documents leaked by Edward Snowden; Jacob, for his part, has been a supporter of Wikileaks. Their experience shows how our governments will slap the label “terrorist” on anybody who dissents or conducts investigative journalism — not because they suspect actual terror plots, but to intimidate and silence.
Perhaps the most thought-provoking line:
“It’s not merely a matter of whether we have something to hide, because it is not us who will decide whether we have something to hide.”
The subject of keeping ones computer use and communications private is vast, but I’d like to briefly describe some of the measures I take and explain why each is important. The tl;dr version: Use Tor for browsing and GPG for email.
Anonymous browsing: Whenever a request is made to another system on the Internet, addressing information is exchanged. This is analogous to the destination and return address in a physical postal system; In this case the addresses use Internet Protocol (IP) instead of numbers and streets, but the idea is the same. If you wanted to send a letter to someone without a return address, they wouldn’t be able to figure out anything more than the location where the letter was first routed from the cancellation marking on the stamp. When it comes to web browsing, there isn’t a means of sending requests that don’t have return addresses. However, you may use a proxy so that the website being accessed doesn’t have your actual IP address but instead has the address of the proxy. The most robust anonymous proxy available is called Tor (The Onion Router) and is available for Windows, Macintosh, Linux and Android.
Encrypted Email: Carrying on the postal analogy, email is actually more like a postcard in terms of the privacy it provides. People may have an expectation of privacy when it comes to the things they commit to email, but it’s merely an expectation. There may be legal or professional repercussions for reading the contents of someone’s email, however. If one wishes to keep the contents of email private, using some form of encryption is recommended. The most widespread mode of encrypting email is the commercially available software “PGP” (Pretty Good Privacy) which also has a free, open source implementation “GPG” (Gnu Privacy Guard). Using GPG is fairly complex because of the concepts involved and I’d recommend having someone walk you through the process. If you’re a do-it-yourself type, there’s extensive documentation available.
Off The Record messaging: Many chat programs will present the option to discard logs of what you’ve typed. This is sometimes referred to as being “off the record” but it’s important to understand what’s going on behind the scenes if you want to maintain confidentiality and even plausible deniability of the things one is communicating to others. Please refer to the Cypherpunks OTR page which treats this topic extensively. For my part, I use Gibberbot on my Android phone when I wish to communicate securely. It’s produced by the Guardian Project, which has collaborated with the Tor Project to bring their software to Android devices.