The Growing Threat of Online Surveillance and How to Protect Yourself

Published On May 21, 2013 | By CopBlock | Articles

This is a guest post by IVPN’s Christopher Reynolds. IVPN (www.ivpn.net) is a virtual private network, and Electronic Frontier Foundation member, dedicated to protecting online privacy.

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The U.S. is in the middle of an upheaval when it comes to monitoring citizens’ online activities. Over the last few years, law enforcement agencies have been pushing for unprecedented powers of surveillance and access to your private online communications. While it’s true that surveillance laws need to be updated for the internet age, it’s clear law enforcement is simply using this opportunity to achieve its Holy Grail – the ability to spy on citizens without any judicial oversight.

Although it hasn’t yet been made law, we’ve already seen warrantless surveillance of online communications. The NSA wiretapping controversy saw the Bush administration collect web logs and emails, directly from Internet Service Providers, without any judicial oversight and largely in effort to silence critics of the government (instead of the stated aim of defeating terrorism) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NSA_warrantless_surveillance_controversy). Rather than reverse this practice, the Obama adminstration instead sought to continue it under new FISA guidelines (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/01/us/01nsa.html?_r=0).

Not content with accessing information from ISPs, legislators introduced CISPA to make it easier for law enforcement to access your information from private companies (https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2013/04/cispa-passes-out-house-without-any-fixes-core-concerns). CISPA attempted to allow companies, such as Google and Facebook, to spy on users’ personal information and share data with not just the government, but anyone, without fear of legal repercussions. While CISPA passed the House convincingly, it was thankfully defeated due to a the threat of a veto by Obama. But the issue of online surveillance remains and another bill will undoubtedly be drafted to take CISPA’s place. Remember, unlike the data stored in your house, emails stored on a server are not protected by the Fourth Amendment (http://digitaldueprocess.org/index.cfm?objectid=37940370-2551-11DF-8E02000C296BA163).

On top of CISPA-esque legislation, the growing threat of a data retention bill in the US also looms large. Data retention is the practice of ISPs storing customers’ online data. This data includes every website you’ve visited, all your email logs, and your billing information. In Europe a ‘Data Retention Directive’ has been in place since 2006, forcing every ISP to retain online data for at least 1 year following cancellation of their service (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Data_Retention_Directive). The US currently does not have a state-mandated data retention policy. But the Obama administration is clearly pushing for such a law (https://www.cdt.org/blogs/john-morris/doj-looking-mandatory-internet-data-retention-law?quicktabs_4=0). At the moment ISPs are free to set their own policies. As this article shows, some ISPs retain data for around a year, while others like AT&T refuse to even disclose how long they store your information (http://torrentfreak.com/how-long-does-your-isp-store-ip-address-logs-120629/).

Protecting your data

Make no mistake, abuse of power by law enforcement extends to the online world. But there are tools you can use to protect yourself. Here’s a quick rundown of the three most popular ways to keep your data private.

TOR (https://www.torproject.org/)

The Onion Router (TOR) is a free-to-use privacy platform, which obscures your IP address and lets your surf the web (almost) anonymously. The only problem with TOR is that you have to place some trust in the individuals running the exit nodes which help protect your IP address. Also because it’s free, TOR frequently suffers from slower connection speeds and is not suitable for downloading large files.

L2P (http://www.i2p2.de/index.html)

L2P is another free-to-use platform, which helps anonymise your data. L2P is generally considered harder to use than TOR, mainly because it’s less common and there’s less support for beginner users. However, L2P is well-suited to sharing files directly between users and arguably offers greater privacy than TOR.

Virtual Private Networks

Full disclosure: I work for the Virtual Private Network and privacy service IVPN (www.ivpn.net). Commercial VPNs offer a privacy service usually on a subscription pricing-model. There are loads of VPNs out there, but not all of them are genuine privacy services. Some retain customer data in exactly the same way as an ISP and are therefore compelled by law to hand over that data if requested. Before signing-up to a VPN make sure you check their data retention policy. The benefits of using a VPN over TOR is that they’re generally easier to set-up and offer faster speeds. You can find out more on choosing a VPN that protects your data right here (http://www.ivpn.net/blog/when-law-enforcement-knocks-on-a-vpns-door-what-happens) and here’s a great list of VPNs that take privacy seriously (http://torrentfreak.com/vpn-services-that-take-your-anonymity-seriously-2013-edition-130302/).

Christopher Reynolds

 

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  • slappy

    Paranoid bullshit activist rhetoric. just dont’ go out there fucking breaking the law. Bullshit activists are always doing something stupid. Before long their criminal enterprises creep into the community and then the PD or doing their surveillance. Of course these these same dumbfuck activists blame the police because the activists decided to break the law.

  • slappy

    On a side note; I watch child porn in between visits here and have never been bothered. Waiting for my local pd to come by and choke me out GOD I love that.

  • Vince

    Ah, slappy. Another mindless automaton. Did you know that in the Soviet Union it was illegal to listen to “rock and roll”? So, I guess if “rock and roll” were illegal you, as an upstanding and law abiding citizen, wouldn’t listen to it, right?
    And I guess you’re also the kind of guy that thinks using the IRS against “political opponents” of the status quo is “just”, right?
    The you pose is a strawman used by Cowardly Lions to infringe on personal liberty, but you don’t care about that because you have nothing to hide yet.

  • LeaveTheMatrix

    The government likes people who use gmail, hotmail, and other services. This means that your email gets saved on their servers and they can easily get access without you knowing.

    If you use your own email server/domain and use IMAP then this means your email is saved on remote servers where is backed up on the hosts backups system as well. They can get access at any time without you knowing.

    Personally, I use my own domains and use POP3.

    The reason for this is that the email only sits on the remote server for a few minutes to a few hours maximum (depending on how often I check for new email and as I leave my email client active checking for new email every 15 minutes this is often), and as the server is backed up once a day at the host only the email that is on the server AT THE TIME OF THE BACKUP is placed onto the backup system, and only for 30 days.

    This means that at any time, the only spot that email exists is :

    1. In other peoples servers if I send email (I rarely send email).

    2. On my local computers, in my house.

    Feds can seize my servers at my host, they will not find much in the way of email on them.

    They can attempt to seize my computers but they will need to have a warrant to get in the door.

    If they go for the servers first, that will give me the warning needed to wipe the local computers.

  • t.

    Trix: Why not just not be a criminal. Its a lot easier. Honestly it is.

  • Keith

    Well T and Scrappy, i’m a U.S. Veteran twice over, and a law abiding citizen, and I protect against an overintrusive government. You 2 seem very niave when it comes to the trust you put into mere human beings, which make up our government. It’s especially funny how Scrappy always taunts people about the feds and cia watching cop block, but when it’s clear that they are protected, he mocks them. Anyway, you 2 love birds can live your lives, as for me, i’ve used TOR for quite some time, and it is fantastic. Not only browsing, but sending encrypted data pier to pier. Ah, no big brother watching, how liberating.

  • slappy

    Keith You are a fucking liar. You aren’t a veteran nor are you a law abiding citizen. I read your fucking bullshit and it isn’t hard to figure out who you are. You are a fucking activist. Typical bullshit activist. Do you honestly believe the PD, FBI or even CIA couldn’t watch you if they wanted to? You are to stupid to live. This article is pure fucking bullshit like you. Just a bunch of crap conspiracy theories by criminal activists.

  • Keith

    Hah, that is so funny Crappy. Yes I am a vet, and my 22 yr old son is starting his service as a Naval Officer later this year. But who gives a shit what you think. Just so you know, the software I use makes it very difficult to track me. Very difficult being the operative phrase. Meaning, if I’m not a terrorist or kiddie toucher, it is too much work for the feds to find my activity online, so they won’t. Again, a little common sense goes a long way. Never said they could not, that is not what the software is. It just makes it 1 million times harder, as dozens of individual warants need to be executed simultaneously to capture the path backwards. But i wouldn’t expect you to understand given your obvious lack of intellect.

  • Keith

    “Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself; and where they are, they should be changed. Nowhere is this more clear than in the laws against possession of marijuana in private for personal use…” – President Jimmy Carter to Congress, August 2, 1977.

  • YankeeFan

    Keith,

    Do not feed the troll. That’s all he is.

  • LeaveTheMatrix

    t. , you claim that I am a criminal.

    Do you have any proof to back up your claims?

    For your information, I am no criminal and at this time I have no plans on performing any criminal act.

    However, I have kept an eye on how the government likes to watch over citizens and the methods that they use.

    I watch how they like to play “connect the dots” and assume that if you do A and B then C “must” be true.

    You yourself are a prime example, you assume that since I do not keep my email on external server I must be a criminal for example.

    I am not a criminal, but I do not believe in making it easy to make myself be branded one out of miscilanoous material that may not be related.

    Therefor, I have things setup in such a way, that they can not access my email without having to alert me.

    Once I am alerted, I will do a complete wipe of my systems via a systems format and multiple 0/1 overwrite.

    Not a criminal, just don’t want to make it to easy for them.

  • t.

    I didn’t claim you are a c criminal. You be whatever you wanna be. But spending so much time worried about “big brother” coming for you is crazy. If you aren’t deeply involved in illegal activity….nobody cares about you. Sorry if that pops your bubble.

  • LeaveTheMatrix

    Actually t. I dont spend much time worrying about “big brother” , my setup was initially due to the fact that as running my own systems I DO have storage limits on the servers.

    Moving the storage from the servers to local storage was the solution to this.

    However, after seeing the type of “stunts” that have been pulled recently by the feds, its just an added bonus.

  • Slappy

    I can’t keep up this charade any longer. I’m just a troll. I’m a 34 year old mall security guard. I live in my mom’s basement. I failed out of the police training program at community college. The only sexual experience I’ve ever had was with my uncle. Posting comments on sites like this and pissing others off is the only way I can find to feel good. It’s really the only way I can get any attention or really get anyone to interact with me. I’m just angry at my own personal failures in life and I’m really lonely. I honestly just need a friend and a hug.
    :(

  • shawn

    @T

    ” I didn’t claim you are a c criminal. You be whatever you
    wanna be. But spending so much time worried about
    “big brother” coming for you is crazy. If you aren’t
    deeply involved in illegal activity….nobody cares about
    you. Sorry if that pops your bubble.”

    Tell that obama’s critics, the ones he sicked the IRS on. Do you understand the concepts of human dignity? We value privacy, and expect to be treated as honest citizens to be respected.
    Now, we can’t express an unpopular opinion without government attention. Heck, a family got raided for buying growing supplies for tomatoes. That is proof of the intrusiveness of government today.

  • steve

    Do it Slappy , do it and all the torture will be over.

  • LeaveTheMatrix

    @shawn

    ” Now, we can’t express an unpopular opinion without government attention. Heck, a family got raided for buying growing supplies for tomatoes. That is proof of the intrusiveness of government today.”

    It is due to actions such as these, that I have to wonder now if it is not best to now act as if we ARE all criminals.

    What I mean by this, is if we just assume that they are watching us and take action proactively, then when they do begin to watch us we will not have to play catch up.

    For example, as far as we do know they are not watching everyones email addresses but what if we find out tommorrow that every email is being copied/duplicated?

    Those who rely on PGP proactively already should be protected, while those who are not would be “dang, now I need to find a way to prevent this”.

    I protect not against what occurs, but what may occur.

  • slappy

    Keith you are a fucking lying cunt asshole. You were never in the millitary and you don’t have a son in the navy. Spare me your bullshit. You are doing what every other fucking activist is doing. Creating a bullshit fantasy life to excape reality. A reality of a stupid fucked up wasted life by a stupid fucked up activist known as Keith. Go choke yourself liar.

  • Shawn

    @Slappy

    You know, the first sign that you’ve accomplished nothing in life is to assume everyone else is just as much a loser as you are.

    And look, you prove your character with three foul words in the first sentence, with several more to follow. No doughnut tonight.

  • Ariel

    The really strange thing about these arguments, especially t.’s argument of “If you aren’t deeply involved in illegal activity….nobody cares about you” which is just a variant of “if you have nothing to hide”, is that European countries have overall a higher level of protection of privacy than the USA.

    It’s really a question of should the government do this given our ideals and how we structured our government.

  • t.

    Areil: Not surprisingly…you missed the point. Your comment about me is assuming that someone is looking at you. My comment is that no one is looking at you. Very different.

  • Ariel

    t.,

    It isn’t whether they are looking, it is why should they be able to without warrants and further court overview, and no I don’t mean secret courts as set up before even Bush.

    It’s why I wrote “it’s really a question of should the government do this given our ideals and how we structured our government.” If you are at all familiar with what FDR commissioned Hoover to do in 1937, and how Presidents have used the FBI since, this statement “If you aren’t deeply involved in illegal activity….” is incredibly naive.

    I didn’t miss the point but you don’t even know what the point is.

  • Ariel

    So now my cross-comment to all LEOS from t.’s “I have to protect EVERYONES RIGHTS. You are only concerned with YOUR RIGHTS.” I use “you” for the profession

    No you enforce the law. If tomorrow the law was “free speech is confined to a 100 yard radius” at a municipal center, you’d enforce that law. If tomorrow the law said “round up Muslims” you would enforce that law. You enforced Jim Crow. You enforced anti-miscegnation laws. You beat bloody the Labor movement, the movement that gave you your Unions and wrongly because private isn’t public. If tomorrow SCOTUS made the 4th and 5th moot by decree, you’d move accordingly. You wouldn’t wait for the amendment, SCOTUS would suffice.

    If the laws are wrong, you enforce them. You aren’t a moral agent, you never have been. Your profession isn’t based on moral agency, it’s based on enforcing the law. You enforce laws even if morally wrong. You need to get that. You need to understand your part in injustice, accept it, and realize who you actually are: you enforce laws, no matter the morality. You aren’t moral agents, you enforce the law.

    The rest of us determine the law and it’s moral worth. You don’t, your profession has nothing to say on it. You are not moral agents.