PSA: privacy, freedom, and transparency on the internet

…will not happen unless we take steps to make it happen. Don’t trust that “someone else” will. If you’re not worried about your privacy, you really should be: Data retention should last one year

Governments have proposed that internet providers retain information on customers including websites visited, online searches and key data required to tie verified account identities to IP addresses. The ideas are being pushed as a means to assist law enforcement within and across national borders.

There’s more, lots more: Google and Facebook: Protect Our Privacy! and so on.

So what can we do about it? Well for starters, keep abreast of various software and network projects that work toward an even better decentralized (to avoid the “kill switch” option) network run on open source software (to avoid back doors, restrictions, and throttling). For example:The FreedomBox Foundation, a particularly interesting project and one that I personally support

Freedom Box exists to counter these unfree “platform” technologies that threaten political freedom. Freedom Box exists to provide people with privacy-respecting technology alternatives in normal times, and to offer ways to collaborate safely and securely with others in building social networks of protest, demonstration, and mobilization for political change in the not-so-normal times.

Freedom Box software is built to run on hardware that already exists, and will soon become much more widely available and much more inexpensive. “Plug servers” and other compact devices are going to become ubiquitous in the next few years, serving as “media centers,” “communications centers,” “wireless routers,” and many other familiar and not-so-familiar roles in office and home.

Freedom Box software images will turn all sorts of such devices into privacy appliances. Taken together, these appliances will afford people around the world options for communicating, publishing, and collaborating that will resist state intervention or disruption. People owning these appliances will be able to restore anonymity in the Net, despite efforts of despotic regimes to keep track of who reads what and who communicates with whom.

This article has a pretty good summary: Decentralizing the Internet So Big Brother Can’t Find You.

Sounds great, but what about things to do right now? If you’re using Firefox ( and if you’re using Internet Explorer, ditch it and use another browser — any other browser. IE is simply too insecure — not only in the area of privacy, but also in terms of picking up viruses and trojan horses), try this addon from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. It’s not 100% since not every site supports SSL encrypted web page connections, but if it does, this will handle it automatically for you: HTTPS Everywhere. I’ve been using it for a while now, and am very pleased with it.

Something else to consider using — particularly if you use a lot of wireless connection: Tor Browser Bundle

The Tor Browser Bundle lets you use Tor on Windows, Mac OS X, or Linux without needing to install any software. It can run off a USB flash drive, comes with a pre-configured web browser, and is self-contained. The Tor IM Browser Bundle additionally allows instant messaging and chat over Tor. If you would prefer to use your existing web browser, install Tor permanently, or if you don’t use Windows, see the other ways to download Tor.

There’s a lot of help, including a video plus written instructions on getting it set up. It is not too difficult, and would really pay off. (If you are more technically competent and have the resources, consider contributing servers and such to the Tor project, or even just donate money toward their work. The recent uprisings across the MiddleEast have made extensive use of the anonymity and thus safety the Tor project provides.)

If you read up on how HBGary got hacked, which I covered recently, you might want to consider doing a better job with your passwords. Much of hacking can be done simply and quickly through hacking weak passwords. This is a really good writeup, and it mentions a Firefox addon that can be used to help generate (and re generate) passwords: Password Hashing: A Neat Idea That Can Help to Protect Your Online Accounts.

I haven’t got good solutions for this (other than don’t get one, but I’m hardly one to talk, since I’m planning on getting a smartphone pretty soon), but you should at least be aware of the issues here, and refrain from certain activity (like accessing your bank account!) on your smartphone: Don’t Sacrifice Security on Mobile Devices.

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