Category Archives: Privacy

Side-stepping Big Brother

In our country, do we want to allow a means of communication between people which […] we cannot read?

My answer to that question is no, we must not.

~David Cameron

Since the Conservative Part achieved a majority in the elections, the previously shelved Draft Communications Data Bill (also known as the Snooper’s Charter) is back on the list of things the government wants to push through at the earliest possible opportunity. The original draft bill required internet and other service providers to retain records of all communications for 12 months, including emails, web phone calls and use of social media and it is unlikely that it will have changed much since it was first tabled.

The bill currently has the support of the National Crime Agency, Met Police and City of London Police.

It is not too late to start lobbying our MPs in the hope that they will vote against this bill.

The British people are in danger of ‘sleep-walking into a surveillance society!’

~Richard Thomas former Information Commissioner

Compared to other industrialised Western states, the UK was “the most surveilled country”

~Dr David Murakami-Wood

If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear is a saying that I seen being quoted by politicians more and more lately; it is the thought that if you are honest, law-abiding and open then you will have no problems with the government looking into what you are saying and doing. I am a firm believer in privacy and believe that it is a right that no government should be able remove.

I know that it is very easy being tracked if you use an RFID travel card or carry your mobile phone with you, even walking in public through a built-up area the chances of you ending up on CCTV are very good.

It is even easier to track a person online, with cookies being placed on our computers, ISPs tracking where we go, search companies retaining all our searches and now governments wanting access to everything we say and do.

It is fortunate that in this modern, hyper-connected world there are tools available to end-users to allow us a modicum of privacy online. I have included links and some information on three of them below.

The Onion Router (Tor)

Tor allows internet users to surf the web anonymously and is used for both legal and illegal purposes.

From the Electronic Freedom Foundation Surveillance Self Defence page:

Tor is a volunteer-run service that provides both privacy and anonymity online by masking who you are and where you are connecting. The service also protects you from the Tor network itself.

For people who might need occasional anonymity and privacy when accessing websites, Tor Browser provides a quick and easy way to use the Tor network.

Users are able to download a version of the Firefox browser modified to work through the Tor network:

The Tor Browser works just like other web browsers, except that it sends your communications through Tor, making it harder for people who are monitoring you to know exactly what you’re doing online, and harder for people monitoring the sites you use to know where you’re connecting from. Keep in mind that only activities you do inside of Tor Browser itself will be anonymized. Having Tor Browser installed on your computer does not make things you do on the same computer using other software (such as your regular web browser) anonymous.

The Tor Project also provides secure browsing apps for Android & iPhone users.


The Amnesic Incognito Live System (Tails) is a Debian-based live CD/USB with the goal of providing complete Internet anonymity for the user. The product ships with several Internet applications, including web browser, IRC client, mail client and instant messenger, all pre-configured with security in mind and with all traffic anonymised. To achieve this, Tails uses the Tor network to make Internet traffic very hard to trace.

When your computer boots up after the USB or CD is inserted, instead of booting with the installed operating system it will start up the Tails temporary OS that will be run off the CD/USB. When shut down all traces of the temporary OS will be removed from the computer and when the CD/USB is removed the standard OS will begin when next the computer is turned on.

Off the Record Messaging

is a cryptographic protocol that provides encryption for instant messaging conversations.

Websites worth visiting

Library Freedom Project

The Library Freedom Project is a partnership among librarians, technologists, attorneys, and privacy advocates which aims to make real the promise of intellectual freedom in libraries. By teaching librarians about surveillance threats, privacy rights and responsibilities, and digital tools to stop surveillance, we hope to create a privacy-centric paradigm shift in libraries and the local communities they serve.

The Electronic Freedom Foundation

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is the leading nonprofit organization defending civil liberties in the digital world. Founded in 1990, EFF champions user privacy, free expression, and innovation through impact litigation, policy analysis, grassroots activism, and technology development. The EFF works to ensure that rights and freedoms are enhanced and protected as our use of technology grows.

The Open Rights Group

The Open Rights Group upholds human rights like free expression and privacy. We condemn and work against repressive laws or systems that deny people these rights.

The ORG campaigns, lobbies, goes to court — whatever it takes to build and support a movement for freedom in the digital age.

Some thoughts on Web Anonymity

We live in a stalker-friendly world what with people over-sharing more and more on social networking sites; it used to be that if a person wanted to find out what someone was up to they had to go through their garbage, stalk them for absolute ages to get an idea of what was going on or intercept their mail. Nowadays Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and other applications and sites allow people to broadcast their every move.

Unlike the NSA I don’t subscribe to the view that if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear, I do believe that my information is private and unless I choose to make it public it should stay that way.

As a fairly prolific user of Twitter and regular Facebookista as well as being a blogger I am aware of what I put out there and how it can be used.

Facebook is pretty blatant about using their members information for advertisements and storing data for later use – even if you delete your profile there is no guarantee that the information will ever truly be gone. Websites like Delete Facebook give information on how to permanently delete your profile.

Our movements through the web leave tracks via cookies (Cookies are pieces of personal data stored when users browse the web, sometimes to power advertising) that companies use to build profiles for targeted advertising. Google is one of the biggest offenders when it comes to targeted adverts through users search habits and Gmail keyword scanning.

EU regulations have made it easier for end users to see what cookies are being saved on their computers – some for ease of use but others to monitor what people look at so they can be targeted for online sales.

Add to this the revelations of what the NSA and GCHQ have been up to with spying on online communications and previously unknown acronyms (PRISM) becoming public knowledge it has made me feel less than secure online.

Staying (relatively) anonymous online

I have been aware of The Onion Router (TOR) for ages and have even played with it for a while – it is a cross-platform program and works on Windows, OSX and Linux operating systems. There are even Android & iPhone apps that allow secure mobile browsing.
While it is true that TOR will slow your online activities a bit, it does make your web use more secure as long as you know what you are doing when you use it! The founder of The Silk Road learned this to his cost when he was arrested.

A lot has been said about how TOR allows criminals to get away with crime but it also allows political dissidents and journalists to communicate privately to avoid arrest or being disappeared.

Find out more about TOR here

Notorious bittorrent tracker Pirate Bay has released a browser bundled with TOR that allows users to surf the web anonymously.

Duckduckgo a relatively new search engine markets itself as a tracker free search site

DuckDuckGo does not collect or share personal information. That is their privacy policy in a nutshell.

DuckDuckGo gets its results from over one hundred sources, including DuckDuckBot (their own crawler), crowd-sourced sites (like Wikipedia, which are stored in their own index), Yahoo! (through BOSS), Yandex, WolframAlpha, and Bing. For any given search, there is usually a vertical search engine out there that does a better job at answering it than a general search engine. Their long-term goal is to get you information from that best source, ideally in instant answer form.

You can also use a Linux-based system such as TAILS – a live system that aims to preserve your privacy and anonymity. It helps you to use the Internet anonymously and circumvent censorship almost anywhere you go and on any computer but leaving no trace unless you ask it to explicitly.

It is a complete operating system designed to be used from a DVD, USB stick, or SD card independently of the computer’s original operating system. It is Free Software and based on Debian GNU/Linux.

You can also use a standard Linux distro for more control of your computer, personally I use Ubuntu as my home OS. Linux is incredibly secure but it cannot protect users from compromising themselves through ignorance so make sure you know what you are doing!