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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Privacy vs. Protection

In recent developments, Edward Snowden is perceived to have decided to call Venezuela his new home. According to CBS News, Venezuela seems to be the best choice because they are the most well equip nation to get Snowden there safely and keep him protected from extradition. Venezuela Foreign Minister, Elias Jaua, states, “Even if we wanted to, and we don’t, we wouldn’t extradite him, nor should we because it is not legal nor ethical.” Although a destination has finally been decided upon, the mission to get Snowden to safety is far away from complete. Currently, Snowden’s route on his “flight of liberty” has yet to be decided, and according to New York Magazine, the journey could become very costly. “A former CIA analyst suggested a private jet, which could run up to $200,000, but might be able to make it to Caracas from Russia where, as far as we know, Snowden remains at Sheremetyevo Airport — without refueling. ” Edward Snowden’s travel arrangements could take weeks to finalize.

The story of Edward Snowden brings many different points of debate to the forefront of the national conversation. The one that currently interests me the most is privacy vs. protection. When discussing a nation that was founded on certain established freedoms, is it more important to hold a citizen’s right to privacy in the highest regard? Or is the government’s obligation to protect its citizens from harm its highest responsibility?

There are strong arguments that could be made for both sides of this debate. Those who value their privacy very close to them have every right to do so. Whether there is a justifiable reason to do so or not, they have every right to stand up and say “I don’t want my government meddling in my private matters.” However, in this digital age, it is very difficult to keep even the most mundane activities private. With social media and internet usage at an all time high, media companies such as Facebook and Google are constantly selling your “private” information to third parties in order to create personalized advertising campaigns (always read your terms of use). And because new technology is developed every day to create shortcuts, most information is stored somewhere on the World Wide Web. Even medical records have become digitized and are living in an internet based cloud – without your permission. So although you may hold your private life in high regarding, there is unfortunately no such thing as 100% privacy in the digital age.

For those of you who find comfort in the large and soft security blanket that the USA has cast upon you, then I’m sure you can remain comfortable knowing that the NSA will not stop keeping track who you communicate with, when, where, and what about. But beware that in this post 9/11 world, “big brother” will always be watching. What I find troubling in this argument is that despite the claim that we are being watched for our own protection we are not fully protected. Terrible tragedies that have recently occurred in our country such as the Boston Marathon Bombings have taken place during this period and there was no way to prevent them. None of the communication took place online or over the phone, as far as we know. Even though our government wants to keep us safe, there is no way to fully accomplish that.

I hate to remain undecided in this heated argument, but I have already accepted that there is no way I will be able to keep my life completely private and protected. Every time I walk out of my apartment, I risk my well being in order to live my life. But it is a chance I am willing to take. Edward Snowden wanted to inform the citizens of this country that their daily activities are being monitored by the NSA, but I had assumed long ago that these activities would be monitored, especially if there was something to hide. From national terrorist suspicions to small-town local injustices, law enforcing departments constantly monitor activities such as phone calls and internet use in order to solve crimes. Why should this be any different? While I would rather my government not monitor my activities such as read personal texts from friends and family and look at pictures from the party I attended last weekend, I have nothing to hide or be ashamed of.

I can appreciate the urgent manner in which Edward Snowden attempted to warn us about our privacy being infringed upon, but the bottom line is that the government spy game has taken place for a number of years at this point. As long as you have nothing to hide, there is no use to fight it because the NSA will continue this for the foreseeable future.