I will be taking steps over the next week or so to increase my online security. I'll share my experience with that process so that you can do that, too, if you want. I hope the information in this this post will help to convince you of the importance of taking back at least some control over your online experience. Ultimately, as long as we're connected to the world wide web of control, there is no such thing as complete security. But we don't have to make it so easy for Big Brother to track our every move.
It's annoying, but most internet users move on without paying serious attention to it. However, it becomes a different story when they learn that their bank accounts have been accessed or that their credit cards are being used to pay for purchases all over the world. At that critical point, people feel invaded and helpless. Getting these matters straightened out can be time-consuming and costly. The lesson here is that the digital world is not a safe and secure space. Nothing is impervious to skilled and determined hackers.
But there's a much more serious, much more insidious threat. If you are an activist, or a thinking person who questions why the world seems to be going going to hell in a handbasket, or even just law-abiding you, if you're online, your entire life is an open book to your government and the corporations with which it shares information about citizen-consumers. I've always said that my life is an open book, but there are still areas of it that I don't share with the world at large (at least not willingly). But gradually, like the proverbial frog in water that is slowly being brought to a boil, we're so caught up in adapting, adjusting, and accommodating to changes around us that we are unable to take the long view and see where we've been and where we're headed.
If you're a news hound, as I am, you may have taken note of the announcement in 2002 that a programme called "Total Information Awareness" (TIA) was being proposed by Vice Admiral John Poindexter, the former national security adviser in the Reagan administration. You may recall that Poindexter was involved in the transfer of weapons to Iran in the Iran-Contra affair. He was Oliver North's boss. In April 1990 Poindexter was convicted of lying to Congress and obstructing the Congressional investigation into the sale of arms to Iran and using proceeds of the "enterprise" to fund the Nicaraguan "Contras." Despite having been convicted of lying to Congress, his conviction was overturned because (are you ready for this?) he had been granted limited immunity in order to secure his testimony to Congress.
According to the late Michael Ruppert, the announcement of the proposed TIA, a mere 12 years after Poindexter's supposed downfall, seems to have been a trial balloon to "gauge both public and congressional reaction to a bill that, if passed, would grant the federal government drastic new powers in a continuing erosion of the [US] Bill of Rights." Clearly, public reaction was insufficient to derail what was already a runaway train. This was confirmed by William Binney in a Tragedy and Hope interview. He said, "It was ongoing at NSA, and it was just to test the waters to see if they could do it openly, and that told them they couldn't, so they continued in secret." The interview with Binney is long and covers a lot of ground (including the relationship between corporations and the surveillance state). I strongly recommend that you listen to this highly principled former mathematician and cryptanalyst with the NSA who left the agency and became a whistleblower after 9-11.
I've been paying attention to the progression of the surveillance state for at least a few years, but mostly in a kind of intellectual way. Like the average (that is to say, pretty ignorant) internet user, I've assumed that I wasn't of much interest to the powers that be. True, I'm an anarchist, had a close relative in the US with (quote) "the highest security clearance," sometimes participate in peaceful demonstrations, and write on anarchist themes for anarchist publications; but I'm only one of many such people. Most of us live quite ordinary lives and don't see ourselves as posing any real threat to the State. But I've come to see that the State is becoming increasingly paranoid about protecting its power, and it has tools at its disposal that enable it to attack ordinary people who are guilty of nothing more than thought-crime.
There have been indications, clues even, that I should have been taking action to secure my computer (and my life), but until now I've been ignoring them. As far back as 20 years ago, while I was in a small US town writing a research paper, I was speaking my mind freely with the mostly-Republican locals. After walking our dog for about half an hour, my son and I returned to the apartment I had rented. There was a message on my computer screen (a document, not an email) that said, "Quit your political shenanigans." The doors of the apartment were locked and there was nothing missing. Since I had no idea how someone could have done that, and because I was preoccupied with my research paper (which, fortunately, had not been affected), I put the incident out of my mind. In fact, I'd forgotten about it until recently, when my son (now grown and quite proficient with computers) reminded me.
A few years ago, something happened that was much more frightening. I will detail it in another post, but because of it I feel it's necessary to make what is becoming the standard activist disclaimer (mentioned in the video below by Jacob Appelbaum and seconded by William Binney): If anything happens to me, "no matter what, even if there's a videotape, it was murder." I have never been suicidal. Remember that.