By now, it’s old news that the American National Security Agency (NSA) is stealing, storing and searching nearly every email you send, every website you surf, and every telephone conversation you have. Revelations about a massive program of clandestine data collection in collaboration with Internet and email service providers have come thick and fast.
But luckily there are steps we can take to maintain some level of privacy in a non-private world. You can mask your digital presence. It doesn’t cost much, and it’s fairly easy even if you are not tech savvy.
Everything suggested below can be done in less than a day, tops. It’s just a matter of taking it step by step. And if you feel you don’t have the technical skills or the time to do it, hire someone you trust to do it for you. If you don’t know anyone with the skillset, consider one of the local independent computer shops. You might be surprised how often the technicians who work in the small mom and pops really “get” privacy.
1. Change Your Email Provider
Consider using the Thunderbird email program and stop using webmail—any mail service that you get to through your browser, rather than a dedicated mail program like Thunderbird or Outlook. They have some serious security and privacy issues.
2. Take Your Email Offshore
Just as you can take your wealth offshore to protect it you can move your digital presence offshore for the same reason. Most of the free email services folks use have been implicated in government agency schemes to monitor communications. For another jurisdiction with good digital privacy laws, think Switzerland.
Three years ago the Swiss High Court ruled that a user’s IP address is personal information and protected by the country’s privacy laws. So if the U.S. government seeks information about your Internet activity and your email is hosted offshore the U.S. government would then be forced to work through the legal system of a foreign country. This can seriously impede or prohibit access to your information if your email service provider is based in a country with strong privacy laws like Switzerland.
An offshore email account doesn’t have to be expensive and there are some very affordable options from Switzerland and Norway. (I’ll tell you more about those in my full article, which you can read in International Living magazine.)
3. Don’t Ignore Software Updates
As much as there is reason to be leery of updates, it is necessary to take them. Every time a new security exploit comes along from some agency like the NSA, operating systems (and some other programs) are upgraded to seal the hole.
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