I recently attended #DontSpyOnUs – Day of Action at Shoreditch Town Hall, London where I heard from
- Jimmy Wales (Cofounder of Wikipedia)
- Shami Chakrabarti (Director of Liberty – The National Council for Civil Liberties)
- Alan Rusbridger (Editor-in-Chief of the Guardian and the man who broke the Edward Snowden story)
- Cory Doctorow (cyber punk author and activist)
- Stephen Fry
- A whole bunch of security experts
… and what they told me, scared the hell out of me.
They not only scared me, but solidified my suspicions and fears about government surveillance and gave me a good indication on how much data government agencies like the NSA (America) and GCHQ (United Kingdom) are collecting on its citizens everyday.
You may be saying to yourself
I have nothing to hide, I have nothing to fear
and you use this statement to mentally preclude yourself from getting upset about agencies collecting data on you.
After all, you’re not the bad guy right? So what if everything you do online is kept in storage on government servers?
I think Stephen Fry can sum up why this is something you should maybe, possibly, care about.
Stephen makes a good point about who to trust and what you’re entrusting people with. And while I can understand that you may have nothing to hide, if I asked you for your credit cards statements and dental records, would you give them to me? What if I stole them from you? How would you feel?
Governments are made up of people just like me. And you. And your neighbour.
And what do you think your neighbour would do if he or she had your email password? Not even check once right?
What if they had every email password in the world?
If it can happen at Google, it can happen in our governments.
When you think about the fact that we, the people, have elected our governmental bodies to help us progress as a society, its hard to defend their ‘recent’ actions (they’ve been spying on us electronically for over 10 years by the way…) with their original purpose. In fact, what is really happening behind the scenes is far more destructive and misaligned than you may think once you understand just how we’re being spied upon.
How we’re being spied upon
This is probably the most disturbing bit for me and the thing I didn’t realise before #DontSpyOnUs.
I had kind of assumed, in my naiveitivity (pinch my cute cheeks!), that the government was magic.
That ‘it’ had these super space-age tools that sucked up this information via a dragon heartstring wand crafted by ol’ Ollivander himself and it disappeared with a ‘POOF’!
Which is pretty far from the truth.
Here’s how they do it.
They find security holes in widely used programs and exploit them.
They employ hackers (hell, they ARE hackers) who crack programs like Adobe and Windows and install spying software.
But wait! That’s not the worst bit. Because if these guys were really awesome and super helpful (like we pay them to be), they would find these security holes and inform the program’s creators about them so they can patch them up, right?
The hackers inside the NSA and GCHQ find security holes, install their software, and leave them open, assuming no one else is going to find them.
I’m sorry, what planet is this? A planet where there are no criminals? No hackers outside the government? A planet where no one who would do anything illicit with millions of people’s bank details?
So what can I do to stop this?
Hopefully by now you’re no longer saying to yourself that this isn’t your problem, and you’ve come over to the side of
People are not only stealing my private data but making the internet less secure in doing so!
Here’s some steps everyone can take to protect themselves and stop thieves (in and out of government suits).
Step 1. Cherish your data.
80% of the data the governments collect on you comes from giant companies who sell you out. Any super market that you have a loyalty card with knows;
- what you like to buy
- when you like to buy it
- weird stuff like, if you’re pregnant
- when your birthday is
- if you’re single
- your address / phone number / email
- and so much more
You give this data to them and they give this data away.
Choose privacy over convenience .
Buy more stuff with cash. Don’t give away unnecessary information.
Step 2. Stop feeding off the internet.
Every account you set up is a new way to be tracked (and a way to waste vast amounts of time!).
Do you really need a Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Google+, Vine, YouTube, Yo, Foursquare, and Path account?
Be choosy about what platforms you actually need and how many accounts you have set up.
Step 3. Encrypt some stuff.
This may sound far fetched, but its true. Governments have spying budgets. And while news has just come out that these budgets are being curtailed, the programs that they use to spy on you can cost just $30 for unlimited use. So what we’re really talking about is paying for man hours and storage space.
Say you regularly cost the US government $.01 to monitor a year, and you start encrypting all of your messages. You’ll then raise the price it costs to store and decrypt (hack into) all your messages, maybe up to $5.00 a year (that would be awesome).
Which means that if everyone started making their online communications secure, we could raise the NSA’s budget from $10.8billion a year (yeah, that’s the NSA’s 2013 budget) to $5.5trillion. That’s more than the total cost of the Iraq war.
There’s NO WAY to justify that.
But encryption sounds really complicated and wayyyy over many people’s heads.
That’s fine. It is.
But there’s internet super heroes out there who are really trying to make it easy.
Here’s some of those easy (free) tools for you
Secure your web traffic
- HTTPS everywhere – secures your web traffic by loading secure versions of websites (browser extension)
- Disconnect – blocks trackers from popular sites
- DuckDuckGo – search anonymously
- Adblock Plus – blocks all online ads and traffic spying (browser extension)
Secure your email
- Protonmail – encrypted email service
Secure your chats
- CryptoCat – private, encrypted chat rooms (browser extension / iPhone & Android app)
Secure your phone
- Freedome – VPN, anti-virus, anti-tracking, and anti-phishing (iPhone & Android app)
And if, like me, you don’t mind paying a little bit to be super secure, you can buy a VPN (virtual private network) that masks your IP address.
Double-blind web traffic
- Private Internet Access – hides your location and makes it look like you’re surfing from another country
Let’s stop illicit spying together.
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