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Your Computer Security – Or Why You Should Escape From PRISM

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9068171128_4ed842bdc6_zI used to think of computer security largely in terms of preventing hackers from stealing my bank account data.

But the Snowden revelations about NSA data snooping has made me change my thinking.

Your Computer Security – Or Why You Should Escape From PRISM

The activities of the US NSA and the PRISM project make it clear that the US government is conducting mass surveillance. 

Not only of US citizens, but also of pretty well everyone else in the world who is connected to the Internet.

The Net Brings Convenience – But Also Danger

Most people in developed countries now rely on the Net to conduct their business and many aspects of their daily life.

We have the Web, we have online software services, we have cloud storage, information services, data storage. All accessible through our PCs, laptops, tablets and mobile phones.

All of this brings us great benefits and convenience. But it also makes it easy for the ultimate holders of power – in other words governments, to tap into and utilize for their own purposes.

Having access to all this data and the ability to monitor people so much more easily and precisely than in the past is an extremely dangerous power.

I have no problem with governments tracking terrorists and criminals and stopping their activity. What I do object to is for everyone to be treated as a potential criminal or terrorist, and the government and their agencies being able to nose through and copy and archive my data at will.

Innocent People Have Nothing To Fear?

The standard response when anyone objects to any government or police control is: “innocent people have nothing to fear.”

This response is extremely dangerous because it surrenders away your privacy and freedom in one stroke. You may think you have nothing to hide. Your government may think otherwise. And if not today, then maybe tomorrow.  And whether or not someone is considered “innocent” is always subjective.

In a democracy, governments should never be given carte blanche access to everyone’s data. Would you allow me and all your neighbours the freedom to come into your office or house and nose through all your desk drawers, diary, cupboards and everything else whenever they want to?

This is the power that the US government and many other governments around the world have now granted themselves.

Data is being intercepted, recorded and stored by US intelligence authorities as a matter of routine. Not only data of US citizens, but that of non-US citizens as well. It was revealed that even German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone was tapped.

Big IT Corporates Work Hand-in-Glove With The Security Services

The security agencies now place back-doors in the software and online services of the top providers.

The companies themselves may deny this. But that’s part of the nature of security intelligence.

You aren’t permitted to admit the existence of these links and activities. Non Disclosure Agreements of the non-commercial kind. In Britain it’s called the “Official Secrets Act” which requires that people do not divulge any information about surveillance activities to third parties on threat of imprisonment. It’s the nature of the beast.

The convergence of computer technology, digitalization, the Internet, the cloud, and mobile phones all make mass surveillance extremely easy.

We are sleepwalking into a disaster here.

Present Day US Mass Surveillance Exceeds Even KGB and Stasi Expectations

On the one hand we gain the benefits of these innovations in our lives.

But these innovations also open up a degree and extent of mass surveillance and control that even Orwell did not imagine.

It’s revealing that a retired top ex-East German Stasi secret service officer said he regards the level of digital mass surveillance to now be in excess of anything the Stasi could have dreamt of in old Eastern Bloc days.

That’s how “far” we have come.

Russia Now Champions Digital Libertarian Richard Stallman

It’s interesting that the Russians are now giving publicity to US digital libertarian Richard Stallman. The Russian international tv channel RT (Russia Today) has been carrying a number of features, reports and interviews with Stallman.

It’s ironic Russia should apparently be so concerned about digital freedoms and championing Stallman 20 years after the end of the USSR.

Though I wonder why they are doing this. Perhaps it suits their political agenda against the US and EU at present.

Maybe Moscow feels it’s losing out on the digital surveillance “arms race” compared to the advanced stage it’s reached in the US and so are using him as an attack puppet.

Perhaps they also think that by apparently siding with Stallman it makes them look whiter than white versus the USA and wins them moral publicity credit points here for themselves amongst the public.

Stallman points out that mobile phones, especially smartphones, which are more or less the standard now, make excellent surveillance and tracking devices.

Also that the microphone and transmitting and receiving circuitry – and this includes the cameras, can be active even if you have switched them off – or think you have. Same too with laptops.

These digital web tools of convenience are very useful to us. And they are also a security services man’s (or woman’s) dream come true.

Social networks like Facebook invite to enter all your personal details and build your own personal profile, search engines in which you enter the search phrases which reveal what you are interested in, cloud storage where you store your data with third parties. And of course, password services which store all your passwords off your computer at another destination.

All these services can act as convenient front shop windows for the intelligence agencies. The public even come and enter the data for you. No need to go out there and have to request the information from them. They provide it all willingly themselves with hardly any prompting.

Google Streetview’s Wi-Fi Password “Accident”

We saw the scandal a few years back of Google collecting up everyone’s wifi login details – admin name and password – as their Streetview service vehicles drove around the streets photographing the landscape.

When this fact was later discovered by the public, we were told by Google that it had happened “by accident”.

Protect Your Digital Privacy and Freedom!

I’m a fan of digitalization. I appreciate the benefits of the Web, of new ways of conducting business, of utilizing the internet in our lives.

Convenience when using the Web is uppermost for many people. But we should be wary of sacrificing our own privacy in exchange for convenience. Too many of us have fallen for this deal.

The potential consequences of this technology and innovation for being used against us and for restricting our personal freedom are terrifying. In our desire to prevent “acts of terror” democratic countries are throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Once our freedom and data privacy is gone, it’s gone. Once “no freedom” and”no privacy” become the new standard, it will be very hard to prise it back from the state.

We might expect surveillance of this kind back in Communist USSR or North Korea. Surely we should not expect it in a democracy?

De-Google Your Computer!

I’ve decided to take action to protect my digital freedom. I’ll talk more about the measures I’ve taken in a later post. But what I’ve done is basically to “de-Google” my computing.

This means I no longer use, or try not to use, the services of the NSA’s big corporate friends. Such as Google, Yahoo, etc. I also try to avoid services based on US territory or under US jurisdiction. Where possible I’ve substituted alternatives which have more likelihood of being more private and secure.

I’m still in the process of “de-Googling”. It’s going to take a little time. And I’m aware that the alternatives are also not necessarily fully secure.

It is true you can’t fully prevent the security intelligence agencies from accessing your data if they really want to. But you can make it harder for them to carry out routine and casual data snooping on innocent people. You don’t have to leave your front door wide open for strangers to simply walk in and snoop around.

If you care about your privacy and freedom – and the privacy and freedom of your fellow citizens, then you should consider doing the same.

For some revealing insights into the current state of play with the US NSA and PRISM, see the presentations by EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) and ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) speakers at the Chaos Computer Club Annual Communications Convention in Hamburg, Germany (in English). See the YouTube links below:




Image: The Supervision – End Mass Surveillance – courtesy of creative heroes


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