The Possibility Of A Private Life

Other than the US issuing a letter to Russia, promising that the government will not mame, torture, or kill Edward Snowden if he is extradited (ha!), no news has been released regarding Snowden and his request for temporary asylum in Russia. With that out of the way, let us shift our focus back on the NSA and their spy games.

A very interesting and intriguing article was released today by my favorite publication, New York Magazine, regarding how much effort and care is needed to avoid the prying eyes of the NSA. The Survaillance-Free Day (Part I) written by Kevin Roose is essentially a how-to guide in avoiding detection from the government as well as third party marketers in daily life. The basis of the article begins as an in depth investigation into the NSA tactics that Snowden leaked. However, the piece turns into a step by step document on how to live off the radar while still having access to internet and other smart electronic devices. There are so many measures taken that Part I ends before the man leaves his apartment.

As Roose begins to go about his morning routine, he first takes simple measure to hide from any sort of surveillance such as iPad, Kindle, and XBox. All three devices are known to collect metadata on whereabouts and activities of anyone using them so it’s not hard to understand why they are the first to go. iPhone is turned on airplane mode and webcams are then covered because it is also possible to hack into them. Wickr, a program that allows for text messages to be encrypted and sets them for self-destruction within minutes, is then downloaded as a precaution.

During breakfast, our investigator outfits his laptop with multiple pieces of software, so that detection can be avoided. First the program HideMyAss is downloaded. It is the most important piece of anti-detection software for this project. “It’s a private VPN service that is popular with the anti-surveillance crowd, since it allows you to camouflage your web activity by sending it through a network of thousands of proxy servers scattered around the world. I’m in the Bay Area, but with HideMyAss, I can make it look like I’m logging on from Brazil or Bangladesh,” states Roose. Other measures are taken by setting up a different e-mail address through the provider HushMail, and wrapping all electronic devices in foil. All social media devices are not to be used with the exception of Twitter, a site known to have not participated in NSA PRISM surveillance.

My favorite part about this whole experiment is the cap Kevin Roose outfitted for himself. A simple red cap is equipped with LEDs wired to 9-volt batteries. Apparently since those lights are infrared, it makes it harder to be detected by surveillance cameras, if constructed correctly. 

Roose had help finding all of these devices and software programs; Jon Callas, a professional cybertographer, and Gary Miliefsky, executive producer of Cyber Defense Magazine. You know these guys know what they’re doing. They warned our investigator that all of these measure will not simply make him invisible but simply make it a lot harder to be detected. However they also issued a warning. “Both Jon and Gary pointed out one of the central paradoxes of my day – that, by downloading Tor and HideMyAss, by paying for software in Bitcoin, wrapping my phones in foil, and by turning my head into a giant glowing orb, I’m effectively asking to be put on a terrorist watch list. It’s the digital equivalent of hanging a big “I’M SKETCHY” sign around my neck.” Taking all of these measures for privacy make you look like you certainly have something to hide, more of a reason for the NSA to open up an investigation.

I think this article is absolutely necessary in the wake of this controversy. I do understand why Edward Snowden did what he did but as I highlighted in my second post on this topic, it is excruciatingly difficult to establish privacy in the digital age.  This investigation highlights the devices needed in order to establish some form of digital privacy, but if these measures are taken, then you are more at risk for NSA surveillance than ever before. By taking these measures, you are begging to be placed on an FBI watch list for several years at best. Also, these measures are extremely time consuming, so if one wants privacy that badly, one must take at least thirty minutes out of their morning routine to ensure it.

This article is fascinating and I can’t wait to see what Part II establishes.


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