I want to talk a little bit about privacy and security online. It’s becoming clear to me that part of my drive to write again is that I am suddenly afraid that my right to publish a blog in which I speak freely about my opinions on the government (or anything, really) is not guaranteed.
So I have begun to think about online security.
Security and privacy are things that we should all be concerned with, as my husband and my brother have been saying to me for years. I, however, have fully embraced a public identity on the Internet. This is where society is heading, I reasoned. We don’t hide behind usernames anymore. My Facebook account has my real name on it and I use it professionally as well as personally. Even this website is under my real name. I am not concerned with people knowing who I am.
What I am coming to realize, however, is that using my real name on the Internet and having concerns about privacy and security are not mutually exclusive.
I’ve begun to think really hard about which aspects of my online life to secure, which aspects to alter, and which aspects to give up.
It’s giving me a headache.
A big part of my problem in grappling with these issues is that I just don’t know enough about how the tech works. I know there are secure apps, like Signal, for certain functions, like text messaging. My brother (Hi Bill, now you’re not anonymous!) switched over to Signal a while back and asked that I use it to communicate with him. Since it was important to him, I did. He and my husband are my only contacts on it.
Last week, however, I was reading the August 2016 issue of Wired (I know, I’m behind on my reading), which has a profile on Moxie Marlinspike, the man who is responsible for the tech Signal uses to encrypt text messages. This is where I started my research. It is fascinating but still really confusing to me.
I mentioned to Bill that I was starting to be interested in this subject, and he sent me to Email Self-Defense at the Free Software Foundation. The step-by-step tutorial seems easy enough to follow. And I can still use my Gmail account!
Inspired, I decided to download Thunderbird on the machine I use for my work. But I couldn’t, because my husband (whose public-facing website doesn’t reflect who he is and what he does because he’s been helping me so much; thankyouIloveyou) is running Linux on this machine and he needed to run a command to install a new app, and we are now over my head on the technical end again.
Side Note: I am frustrated by my lack of knowledge of how computers actually work. I can navigate software pretty well, and I know my way around a database and am familiar with some very basic web design elements, but I get out of my depth very quickly. I am trying to catch up. I keep thinking about the organizers of the Arab Spring, who came up with creative solutions to access the Internet when the government cut it off, and I know that, with my current knowledge base, I would be absolutely isolated if I suddenly lost access to my Comcast account. At the moment, I have relatives who would be able to help me out, but I feel the need for more independence.
Anyway, we got Thunderbird installed and connected to my Gmail. James announced it was downloading 100,000 messages.
I set up my Gmail account way back when it first launched, sometime around 2004 or 2005. I think I had to be invited to set up an account. And the primary draw for me was that Gmail offered so much storage, I didn’t have to worry about deleting messages. At the time, I was working in research, and I had a significant number of news alerts set up, so it was nice to not have to worry about cleaning out my inbox on a regular basis.
I have never been in the habit of deleting email in this account.
Now I find myself stuck for a bit, as I have to do some significant cleanup before I can reasonably use Thunderbird, and contemplating why I’m putting myself through this exercise anyway. (I intend to detail for you how we managed to wade through this mess, but that will be a separate post.)
I am aware, mostly because of James and Bill, that our Internet freedoms are under assault from a government that feels threatened by encrypted phones. And that the rules about how the government can access encrypted information could be changing soon. We should all be very concerned about this.
A standard argument is that, if you have nothing to hide, you don’t need to encrypt your daily messages. This is the same reason police give for performing searches of homes or vehicles without a warrant. It doesn’t matter that you actually have nothing to hide; it matters what a prosecutor can prove in court. Everyone (I hope, after watching Law & Order for a decade or so) knows not to consent to a search without a warrant.
It’s the same thing with encrypting your messages, text or email. Just because you have nothing to hide doesn’t mean the government has the right to read them.
Also, the more people who encrypt their messages, the harder it is for the government to listen in. They might have no interest in your emails, but they might be very interested in your neighbor’s, who is organizing an important protest, or preparing to become a whistleblower. Encryption in and of itself is not an admission of guilt, and the more people who are encrypted, the more encryption will become standard.
You owe it to the whistleblowers of tomorrow to encrypt today.
If you didn’t click the link above, here’s the gist of the proposed rule change:
The Supreme Court on Thursday approved a rule change that would let U.S. judges issue search warrants for access to computers located in any jurisdiction despite opposition from civil liberties groups who say it will greatly expand the FBI’s hacking authority.
U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts transmitted the rules to Congress, which will have until Dec. 1 to reject or modify the changes to the federal rules of criminal procedure. If Congress does not act, the rules would take effect automatically.
Magistrate judges normally can order searches only within the jurisdiction of their court, which is typically limited to a few counties.
We have only until Dec. 1 to register our opposition to this rule. I called my Congresspeople last week to register my support for their opposition to Steve Bannon having anything to do with government (I have really awesome Congresspeople). This week I will call to urge them to oppose this rule change. Call your Congresspeople. It is easy and even kinda fun. The staffers who answer the phones are very polite, and it’s their job to bring your comments to your Congresspeople.
I will continue to document my experience with becoming more encrypted. It’s clear to me now that it’s more of a project than I initially anticipated.
And if you have my cell phone number and want to switch to Signal, let me know.