Protecting Your Privacy

eye through keyholePrivacy.  It’s one of those weird things.

It’s a core component to true independence, yet so many people are willing to toss it aside.

If you act to protect your privacy, you’re assumed to be hiding something.

If you’re hiding something, you’re assumed to be doing something illegal.  It’s the whole, “If you’ve done nothing wrong, you should have nothing to hide” strawman argument.

Just for the record, I wholly and emphatically reject this notion.

I guard my privacy because what I do is no one else’s business!  If I find benefit to myself by sharing some private information, then I’ll share it.  No one – not an individual nor a government agency – has a right to know what I’m doing at any particular moment.

Now, of course, much of our various levels of government disagree with my perspective.  They believe they have the right – and in fact the duty – to know what I’m doing, when I’m doing it, and why I’m doing it.  All in the name of safety.

Your individual privacy – your independence – is of no concern.

So it turns into a dance.  Private citizens buy firewalls for their computers, privacy filters for their smart phones, encryption programs for their private records, etc.

The government, in turn, figures out out ways to defeat those privacy measures.

What it REALLY comes down to is the ability to communicate privately.  To convey information ONLY to the individuals of your choosing.  Not having that information pre-rinsed, pre-screened and subject to approval before being sent along its merry way.

You cannot have independent thought and action when your thoughts and actions must first be pre-approved by some third-party.

It’s more than a dance.  It’s a battle.  It’s a battle between your Constitutional right to privacy (via the fourth amendment) and the government’s belief that the security of the hive trumps the freedom of the individual.

The Book of Army Management says:  On the field of battle, the spoken word does not carry far enough:  hence the institution of gongs and drums.  Nor can ordinary objects be seen clearly enough:  hence the institution of banners and flags.

Gongs and drums, banners and flags, are means whereby the ears and eyes of the host may be focused on one particular point.
–Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Communications were deemed important even 2,500 years ago when The Art of War was penned.  Without communications, you’re operating in a vacuum.

Look what happens regularly in China, and what worked for a short period of time in Egypt:  The government shuts down or restricts access to the Internet and other mediums of communication.

What is really a more important lesson is that these government actions regularly fail.  Why?  Because people find ways around the roadblocks.

There was a great article in PC Word (“Get Internet Access When Your Government Shuts It Down”) that discusses a number of things you can do to get access to the Internet during difficult times.  Many of the options are uber-techy, some are pretty practical.

One of the key things to remember is that it is virtually impossible to fully disable the Internet.  It’s not as if there is a single “kill switch” like on a lamp in your living room.  The Internet is a collection of inter-connected private networks to which the owners have decided to allow access.  It’s a network of networks.

The biggest soft spots to the Internet are these massive servers called NAPs, or Network Access Points.  These act as the traffic cops to route information requests and retrievals.

Hypothetically, the government could shut these down – at least the ones located on American soil.  This is VERY unlikely, for a number of reasons.

First, most of the government runs and communicates via the public Internet.  Yes, some highly-secure communications are completed over private, government-only networks, but they are few and far between.

Second – and ultimately more importantly – is business.  Our commerce is now fully tied to the Internet.  Even for a business that doesn’t have an online sales site, the Internet is used to transmit credit card sales to a company’s bank, or send sales data to a central accounting facility, or allow for security cameras to be monitored from afar.  Hell, many business have converted from land-line telephones to VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) phones (think Vonage).

If the Internet is crippled, so is American business.  That won’t last for long, as even a despot needs cashflow from taxation.

So, if an Egyptian-style uprising were to occur here in the States, the Internet might be restricted, but it wouldn’t be fully shut down.  My guess is that they would use technology similar to what you use on your email “spam” filter to target and reject messages from specific email addresses, IP addresses or which contained “revolutionary” key words.

They’d restrict cell phone access by phones on some secret “watch list”.  They would probably shut down free, anonymous Internet access points, such as those offered at Starbucks, Barnes and Nobles and a gazillion other gathering spots.

Still, you could never restrict everything.  Ask Mubarak in Egypt how well his Internet shut down worked.  People Tweeted, Facebooked, texted, emailed and broadcast to get the information out.  It wasn’t easy – at first – but information got out.  Once it got out, people with skills and knowledge made it easier for others to join these new, ad hoc networks, and it went nuts.


As always, think PACE – Primary, Alternate, Contingency and Emergency.  Have back-ups for your back-ups!  Assume failure of at least one of your plans.

If you think you have the slightest chance of having your email messages stopped, set up multiple, non-used email addresses on different ISPs.  Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail.

Tied to this is having a printed list of email addresses.  Why?  One of the ways the .GOV might identify which accounts to restrict would be by checking the online address books.  Got any contacts in there that might catch the attention of some bureaucrat?

Think that’s illegal?  Good luck with that while pleading your case to the FEDERAL judge hearing your case.

A short-term option is pre-paid cell phones, which you keep charged, but are un-used.  I have a number of friends that have this set up.  Here’s one drawback:  You must keep the phone full of minutes.  If you buy the phone, load some pre-paid minutes, then let them run out, you may lose your number.  The next time you go to load a card, you will have another phone number!

Now, if your plan is to only use it initially for outgoing calls, that’s no big deal.  This also helps with your privacy plans, in that your number isn’t listed in someone else’s cellphone – most likely under your real name!

For family members, we have sets of walkie-talkies.   The ones I have purchased purport to work up to 35 miles.  My guess is that this is the best-case when used in a flat, open area.

We’ve done a number of tests – from mountainous areas to rocky coast areas, and they’ve worked very well up to a mile and a half.  Out on flat desert areas, they’ve worked to 25 miles without a hitch.  Your mileage may vary, so do your own testing!



Comments are closed.