Well, after a week of realising that Governments cannot be trusted not to be peeping Toms in your email what have we learned?
First we should not be surprised. Governments have always used technology to snoop on the general public and build patterns of information to further their agendas. The picture above is of the infamous J Edgar Hoover who must be looking up today at the CIA in abject jealousy. Oh how he would have loved these tools. Hoover, when Director of the FBI, had famously keep a vast collection of files on all the main players in American life, lovingly filled with incriminating information, embarrassing revelations, sexual innuendo, adultery and good items for blackmail. And this, of course, is still why they do this, to compromise politicians, intimidate activists, blackmail and put pressure on whistleblowers, suspects or their friends.
But, apart from shouting and writing stroppy comments on sites, what can we do the show how we feel? Not much it seems.
Because surprisingly the general sense is one that we will just have to get along with it? Strangely too, the old react more strongly than the young, after all who nowadays cannot live without Facebook, YouTube, Google, Gmail etc? Certainly there are few who would countenance simply stepping off the grid, which act in itself would draw down the attention of the demons in NST!
If you post on Facebook or Twitter it is all but deemed to be in the public domain, as our UK Parliament Speaker’s wife Sally Bercow found to her considerable financial cost with her foolish Tweet. If you check into a restaurant on Foursquare or declare your status on Facebook is that not an announcement to the whole world?
The lawyer would simply ask “What expectation did you have of privacy anyway?” and “Was that expectation reasonable?”. Especially as you voluntarily hand over the information to a third party. Did you read all thirty pages of the contract before you clicked “yes”?
As an aside to the feeling of personal frustration, I feel that in handling this the way he has, Obama may have single-handedly stuffed America’s Internet industry. As he has shown he intends to use legislation to snoop on American based companies who hold data in their clouds and servers, even if that data is foreign and the people involved non Americans, it may be that first commercial enterprises who hold information in trust for their clients, and then ordinary people will move their business to non-American based companies who offer very similar services. These foreign companies may feel that leaving commercially sensitive information regarding their clients with an American based company may lead to claims they have not acted with due diligence in maintaining client privacy. It may well cost America dear.
Others may write something new in Open source or FLOSS software and Creative Commons. People, who when the system stops working to suit their need, or is compromised create a new system. The big effort would be to get these systems accepted without them being compromised; politically or technically. Getting migration to these new sites with the public would be slow but business may be considering their position and looking round. There are alternatives out there, so look for them making a move against American companies on the simple selling ground that they are not American and not open to Prism’s surveillance. Facebook was new once too.
Additionally there are things we can do today to avoid offering up too much info to the net – whilst not giving up too much of the fun stuff we love the web for. Firefox give you an add-on which will let you know if the site you are looking at is one Prism reads. Duckduckgo is a search engine not less efficient than Google but who do not collect date, and their usage has increased 50% since this news broke. Admittedly it’s from a way lower base than Google, but still worth watching. And we can all be a little more reticent (or dignified) on Facebook.
Meanwhile, the more dedicated in keeping their on-line life to themselves may build tools to make it harder for them to see everything. Activists already go for Tor, Diaspora, and indenti.ca . Then there are the guerrilla VPNs and network connections.
If you want to take matters more seriously then you could choose to dress in something both simple and stealth proof. A stylish alternative to your tin foil hat might be a stealth proof burqa perhaps?
Or if that’s a little recherché, how about masking the location signal given out by your phone with this little pouch to keep it in. A snip at about £100.00, and an ideal gift for the adulterer in your life this Christmas perhaps?
For those determined to keep Prism at bay, look out also for the return of the old fashioned values such as a return to Moscow Rules which are usually given as
- Assume nothing.
- Never go against your gut feelings.
- Everyone is potentially under opposition control.
- Don’t look back; you are never completely alone.
- Go with the flow, blend in.
- Vary your pattern and stay within your cover.
- Lull them into a sense of complacency.
- Don’t harass the opposition.
- Pick the time and place for action.
- Keep your options open.
I foresee the return of the Number Station, probably on Twitter.
Remembering to treat emails as postcards, able to be read by anyone. Use older tried and tested methods, drop boxes, dead letters and book codes. One curiosity of the new media is that I find that while I write in English, I tend to text message in Scots, often using the impenetrable version of Doric my father’s family spoke. It would be an interesting American spy that could easily follow that. Try the video here to see what I mean.
Then again if you want real privacy in your conversations take up golf.
Copyright David Macadam 2013