The ongoing revelations of the NSA’s secret program of spying activities has been a mainstay of the news this year, since Edward Snowden’s first revelation about PRISM back in May. Since then, he has been labeled a traitor by the USA and forced to hole up in Russia to avoid extradition. Personally, I think his revelations were in the best interest of Americans and the people around the world.
Ever since the PATRIOT Act was hurriedly signed into law on the heels of emotionally-charged politicians and citizens, I’ve been mildly concerned about how much freedom the US had given its government to monitor the activity of their citizens, in the name of fighting “terror”.
Now, understand that in 2001, I was still in the UK (I didn’t move to the States until 2006), a country with perhaps one of the largest networks of CCTV, which the US seem so against. I was never too concerned about the manner in which your movements could be recalled if the need arose, because it was generally only used to help solve crimes, and they only recalled the data they needed to solve an isolated incident.
Compare that with how the NSA is systematically collecting data and information, building profiles about us, and storing it for use against us as and when they see fit. What concerns me even more is that they knew well enough how wrong this was that they kept it secret. We’re only now finding out about just how much they’ve been invading our lives, leaks which they’d very much like to keep quiet.
Now, I don’t put information online that I’m generally not willing to share, but it’s made me rethink just how much I should be sharing. Individually, these pieces of information (such as tweets, or Facebook posts) may be benign, but when you start collecting them all and funnelling them into an algorithm that can paint a picture of you, your preferences, movements, family and history, then it starts to get a bit more scary.
I truly don’t have (much) to hide, so I’m not against targeted and thoughtful surveillance for the sake of helping to solve, or proactively stop crimes, but the NSA’s blatant invasion of privacy and overarching collection of data, from our internet activities, to regularly tracking our location by our mobile phones has led me to take measures to protect myself a little more against their snooping.
Ironically, some people using a VPN to try and overcome the snooping of the NSA may still be at risk because one VPN protocol (L2TP) was intentionally made less secure so that government agencies, such as the NSA could break it and still track activity. I’ve moved to using OpenVPN on my home computers and even on my iPhone.
I’m at the other end of the spectrum to conspiracy theorists, but when a government sees the need to intentionally hide and cover up their far-reaching spying activities, there’s good cause for it, and I think it’s because it would frighten Americans to know just how much of a gap there is between how enslaved they are and how “free” they think they are. As a foreigner, I suspect I’m high on the list of targets for the NSA, so I’m going to do my best to limit just how much they know about me: you never know how they might plan to use that information in the future.
For those interested, I use Private Internet Access for my OpenVPN account. They’re one of the highest-rated providers around, are very reasonably priced, and don’t maintain any traffic logs (meaning that your internet activities are truly anonymous). The setup on a Mac is incredibly easy, the connection never drops, and it just sits silently in your menu bar, confirming that you’re protected. I also love that Apple has worked with OpenVPN to provide an app for connecting to an OpenVPN service, since OpenVPN requires certificates to be installed on your device to encrypt the data. The setup with PIA was relatively simple (takes about 15 minutes), and now that it’s setup, I can just leave it on and my iPhone’s internet connection is permanently and securely encrypted.
While most of my internet activities are now safe from the eyes of the NSA, this is not:
Up yours, NSA.