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Shields Up: Protecting Privacy

An old Boston political boss noted: "Never write if you can speak; never speak if you can nod; never nod if you can wink." Disgraced former governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer, added to that on his Wikipedia page: "Never put it in email."

Privacy experts suggest several ways to keep government monitors out of your life. They say to withdraw as much as possible from the electronic world. Ditch your smartphone. If you must use a smartphone, turn it off and remove the battery when you don't need it. Otherwise it's broadcasting your location. Conduct no business online, never send an email or post anything on social media that you don't want collected and stored by the government.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) recommends "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 communication methods that possess the strongest and clearest legal protections: face-to-face conversations, postal mail and landline telephones."

Welcome to the 1950's, 1960's, the 1970's, maybe the 1980's. Even nation-states are taking this Luddite approach in some cases: reports say that the Russian equivalent of the U.S. Secret Service is using typewriters again to avoid generating digital copies of highly sensitive documents. (I do miss the clacking sound of a good Corona.)

So, individuals who are really serious about maintaining privacy and yet still participating in our modern communications will have to take time-consuming and sometimes complicated steps to do so. (You might want to tap an expert for help).

Here are some of the easier and more common recommendations:

  • Be sure your computers have whole-disk encryption and are password protected. PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) Desktop is touted as "still a great tool and comparatively easy to use".
  • Next, EFF says you should "encrypt your email with S/MIME (Secure/Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions). Experts are unanimous that end-to-end encryption is essential". Note that you should not let somebody else hold the "keys" used for your encryption process. You should keep those safe—always encrypted.

    Mr. Snowden (now in Russia) noted how Microsoft (third party) allows the National Security Agency access to its encryption keys, a good example of why any system that trusts an intermediary carrier is worthless.

I'm envisioning a device that you hold up to your mouth—maybe a smart phone-- that encrypts your voice into the smart phone of the person you’re looking at face-to-face, their smart phone decrypting your words audibly using your public key that you have generously provided to the smart-phone-using person sitting across from you. But I digress—because I love to.

  • Another tip: You should NOT use a familiar nickname in an email account or social networking site that could identify you out there in the ethers of The Web. Cute, your nickname, but D-A-N-G-E-R-O-U-S!
  • "Use features like Ad Block, Ghostery and HTTPS to remain as anonymous as possible,” EFF recommends.

You can Google all around the Web to find various tools that allow you to remain more anonymous but it's always been a good idea—unless you really trust an outfit, like say Amazon for purchases—to not give our your real contact information. You can always create an account (with password!) using false information that lets you go back later, log in and change your profile settings if you want to come clean with the outfit. Maybe that would be like a confession for you, a cleansing?

Use an RF (radio frequency)-proof bag for your smartphone, or smart card, when you're not using it. Yes! Smart Cards, which have been used in Europe for a long time, contain a lot of data and not just a magnetic strip like our plain old credit cards. The smart card data is usually personal stuff that you would probably rather not share with the wo

You can easily purchase an RF-proof bag to fit cards or phones. They contain a lot of copper weave to disrupt the signal that could be picked with a hacker-scanner. rld.

My wife recently got her enhanced driver's license, a smart card that also acts as a passport. They gave her the new license card WITH an RF-proof bag surrounding it, a very good idea.

The most basic, simple and important rules are:

  • Be careful about your online purchases
  • Keep your smart devices in that RF bag
  • Use the principle of "Need To Know" in divulging personal information

Geesh—the Internet may turn all of us, albeit slowly, into security experts.
It's not all bad.


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