Basic Strategies for the World Ahead
In 2015, the Bay Area Society for Art & Activism had the privilege of partnering with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Liberating Ourselves Locally (LOL) Makerspace to host a digital privacy workshop. In light of recent events, it seems appropriate to revisit privacy as a valuable principle and expand upon the best practices we’ve learned.
The right to privacy is specifically addressed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and United States Supreme Court has repeatedly interpreted that the right to privacy is protected by the Constitution. Privacy deserves protection because it is an essential feature of human development, self-expression and truly democratic political participation. If we feel that we are constantly watched, we are pushed to conform and obey and we lose touch with the spirit of liberation and dissent that animates our highest ideals of democratic citizenship. In private is where we explore new ways of thinking and being, we work out ideas, we make mistakes, we make love–or not.
Privacy is the bedrock of our political freedom, yet increasingly we are persuaded to give it up in exchange for convenience and “free” online services where our curious web searches, shopping habits, geographic locations and personal communications are sucked up and re-packaged as consumer metadata. Sophisticated software parses and analyzes this data to generate detailed profiles of our behavior and inclinations. We make ourselves targets of persuasion or possibly coercion and our freedoms diminish.
Many people find that surveillance feels like a good trade to make for convenience. They believe that their behavior is innocent and therefore inconsequential. However, innocence is in the eye of the beholder and the uneven distribution of social and economic privilege doesn’t allow everyone equal access to innocence. Men will not be targets for their research on access to birth control or abortion. The wealthy will never feel bombarded by offers from high-interest payday lenders. White people aren’t frequently suspected as illegal immigrants.
We owe it to ourselves and to each other to ensure the right to privacy as a basic human right. We can begin by valuing it and making the below practices commonplace habits.
Keep your business (and your metadata) to yourself
- Why announce every little step you take? You can use search providers like Startpage or DuckDuckGo to keep your web searches private.
- Use Tor Browser and cover your digital tracks completely.
- Ditch “free” email providers like Gmail and Yahoo! and set yourself up with your own domain and email accounts. (We like Gandi.net but alternative providers abound.) It will cost you a little, but no one will be scanning your messages for metadata or pipelining it to the NSA.
- Normalize email encryption with PGP. PGP stands for Pretty Good Encryption. You can implement it with Mac OS X, Linux, and Windows.
- Send encrypted text messages with Signal for iPhone and Android.
- Block web browsing trackers that record and report your behavior with Disconnect Privacy Pro.
Secure access to your online accounts
- Do you use one password for all your online accounts? It’s convenient but leaves users highly vulnerable. Instead, use an open source password manager like KeePassX to store multiple passwords in one safe location. You’ll need one master ultra-top-secret password to access the database, but be able to store thousands of additional passwords and user names in one location.
- Start using longer passphrases instead of shorter passwords. Passphrases are longer strings of actual words (e.g.Redactedmycatforthisstoryyo!) while passwords are the commonly used mashups of up to 10 characters (e.g. c@tsnam3). In general, passphrases are easier to remember and harder to crack. If you use a password manager, you can start to use super-profesh totally random passwords, (e.g. hro&9GHI-owieur8346-21).
- When was the last time you changed your passwords? Experts agree, these should be changed regularly!
- Enable two-factor authentication (2FA). In addition to requiring a password, two factor authentication requires a second method of user verification, like a PIN sent to your phone or by email.
- EFF offers Surveillance Self-Defense, a collection of online tutorials including this handy protest guide.
- LOL has these notes from a previous workshop for activists.
- Micah Lee of the Freedom of the Press Foundation and The Intercept often has great tips and he recently published this: Surveillance Self-Defense Against the Trump Administration
The above is just the beginning. Rebuilding and securing your digital privacy will take a little time and effort but the rewards are deeply satisfying. It feels good to be free!
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