Just a few years ago, government surveillance was a hot topic all across the nation.
In 2013, former CIA employee Edward Snowden released classified documents detailing the interception of electronic communication and phone calls by the U.S. government. News stations worldwide covered the documents and their implications. Headlines screamed of the U.S. government’s surveillance of their own citizens. This news spurred an international debate about data privacy, Internet privacy, and surveillance practices — especially government surveillance itself.
The fact of the matter is that despite the lessened intensity of this debate and decreasing outrage over time, the U.S. government continues to engage in mass surveillance of its citizens and residents. After terrorist attacks in Orlando and Boston, it was discovered that authorities were already aware that the criminals responsible were a risk for quite some time before the respective incidents, thanks to government surveillance of suspected terrorists.
Informants — including friends, neighbors, family members, and clergy — had filed reports about the individuals involved. The perpetrators names had been added to an extensive list of other suspected terrorists. This list included the names of hundreds of thousands of people, most of whom are innocent, who are all subject to government surveillance.
What are the Drawbacks to the U.S. Government’s Surveillance System?
This overextended intelligence system employed by the U.S. in government surveillance is both ineffective and dangerous. When so many names are added to the same list, there is little accountability or follow-up — their online activity is simply being observed or recorded.
The never-ending list of names means that there is often a lack of focus on more dangerous suspected terrorists, or those with more evidence against them. This means many leads are missed altogether, as those who would investigate are tracking down any of the other several hundred thousand names to ensure they are not a threat.
Additionally, with so many names on the lists, many are bound to be the names of innocent people. With this method, innocent U.S. citizens lose their phone and Internet privacy as the government sorts through all of the possible risks.
History of U.S. Government Surveillance
What many tend to forget is that this mass government surveillance system isn’t new to the 21st century. In fact, it has been a debate and activity central to the U.S. government since as far back as the 1800s (though of course, Internet privacy specifically was not an issue).
While the early days of government surveillance in the U.S. included spy softwares like PRISM and vertical filing cabinets, the methods of surveillance have only gotten more advanced with time, decreasing users’ Internet privacy.
Since 1946, the amount of data retrieved about U.S. citizens has expanded from individual filing cabinets to huge National Security Agency (NSA) data centers. This massive data collection poses a major threat to the safety and privacy of U.S. citizens — their phone communication, Internet privacy, and other aspects of their lives.
This has led to a call for more and better-quality security apps for many different aspects of online work and communication.
International Government Surveillance Alliances
Five Eyes. Nine Eyes. Fourteen Eyes.
Perhaps you have heard these terms before. They come up quite often in the Internet privacy arena, mainly in discussions of the use of VPNs. All three terms refer to alliances formed for international government surveillance, and they are comprised of several countries around the globe.
No matter where you travel within these countries, you will likely lack Internet privacy without taking additional measures, such as the use of security apps.
The Five Eyes (FVEY) surveillance alliance includes:
- United Kingdom
- United States
- New Zealand
This alliance of 5 countries works together to share and collect government surveillance data. They are basically a centralized and globalized inter-country cooperative group that records all your online activity.
This alliance is rooted in World War II. Back then, the U.K. and U.S. formed a partnership, agreeing to share intelligence with each other. This partnership has grown even stronger since the Cold War, the War on Terror, and other terrorism-related threats within and to both the U.S. and the U.K.
There was renewed focus on this in 2013, when Edward Snowden leaked the information about the government surveillance measures being taken by the U.S. its allies. This made the topic of Internet privacy a hot topic amongst those who routinely use the Internet without privacy safeguards.
The Nine Eyes countries include:
- The Netherlands
- All 5 Eyes countries
The existence of this alliance has been referenced by several sources online, including Wikipedia. It can be thought of as an extension to the 5 Eyes, serving the same purpose but across more countries.
The 14 Eyes surveillance countries include:
- All 9 Eyes countries
As before, this is a greater extension to the two previous alliances.
VPN services based in all 14 countries must be treated with caution. If you’re looking to keep your online activity secure and protected from surveillance, guarding your Internet privacy, it’s best to find a VPN service based in a country that is not one of the 14 within the 14 eyes alliance.
How to Protect Yourself Against Government Surveillance
If you’re wondering what steps you can take to protect yourself against your data being collected and stored by the U.S. government surveillance attempts, look no further. Below, we list the top five ways to protect your Internet privacy and phone communication.
Also known as the “Onion Router,” Tor is most often attributed to the dark web but is also efficient at keeping your browsing history safely out of reach of the government.
This is because Tor does the job of parcelling data up into bundles and encrypting them before they reach their destination. This system is fully safe from any kind of eavesdropping, as neither the relays in the middle nor the destination itself know where the information comes from.
Encrypted messaging has become common and accessible over the years, and Signal is a primary example of this phenomena. Developed by Open Whisper Systems, Signal is the golden standard of encrypted communication. Signal allows its users to use their phone numbers after being provided a scannable QR code and ensures that a third party has not interrupted your communication.
You can make use of Signal just like any other messaging app or set it up on your desktop. If switching to Signal is too difficult, you can also choose WhatsApp or iMessage. Both of these apps provide end to end encryption. Just make sure to steer clear of emails and SMS messages, as these forms of communication have the highest chances of being intercepted.
Full Disk Encryption
Full disk encryption will protect your PC when it is turned off or logged out. These days, it’s easier than ever to set up.
On Windows 10, you can use Microsoft’s full disk encryption feature Bitlocker. You can enable it by:
- Opening the start menu and searching “encryption”
- Selecting “Change device encryption settings” and “manage Bitlocker.”
This process works if Bitlocker is not already on by default.
As for a Mac, the full disk encryption is usually enabled by default, but you can check to be sure by:
- Going to system preferences
- Clicking on the Security and Privacy tab
- Enabling full disk encryption
Keep in mind that passwords are imperative to full disk encryption. If you enable full disk encryption on your computer and happen to forget your password, you will have lost all your data — forever.
Two-Factor Authentication and a Password Manager
Although encrypted communications can be helpful and protect people from “dragnet” surveillance, using a password manager and two factor authentication on all your online accounts can help keep you and your privacy even more protected from government surveillance.
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs)
VPN has become a buzzword in the Internet privacy arena. But how exactly can a VPN or security app help insure Internet privacy and combat possible government surveillance?
Making use of a VPN or security app ensures that your Internet service provider (ISP) does not have access to records of the websites you visit. Since they’re incapable of tracking what websites you visit, they are also incapable of creating or storing any records of your web history.
These security apps can help safekeep your Internet privacy tremendously, as the government loses all access to observations or records of your online activity. Even if you feel you don’t have anything to hide from the government, a VPN or security app can ensure that your privacy is protected and remains uncompromised.
As you can see, government surveillance —- by the U.S. and other countries — is commonplace, and it isn’t a reality we can expect to be rid of any time soon.
Fortunately, there are a number of ways you can protect yourself from unwanted surveillance and safeguard your Internet privacy. Now that you know what the government is doing and how to protect yourself, you should think long and hard about what can best provide the security and privacy you want for yourself, your family, or your company.
Once you’ve decided, it’s as easy as following the directions above.
Bonus tip: Using Brave (Mobile application) and DuckDuckGo search engine
Internet browsers are importat collectors of your data. The various information are cookies, history, passwords, cache. Brave is a security application for surfing web as anonymously as it can be just by changing the browser. Same with DuckDuckGo search engine. They are both free and wont’t require much effort to use.a few years ago, government surveillance was a hot topic all across the nation.