Last week a new report based on top secret documents leaked by former CIA contractor Edward Snowden revealed that intelligence agencies were tracking some users simply based on the websites they visit:
One classified document from Government Communications Headquarters, Britain’s top spy agency, shows that GCHQ used its surveillance system to secretly monitor visitors to a WikiLeaks site. By exploiting its ability to tap into the fiber-optic cables that make up the backbone of the Internet, the agency confided to allies in 2012, it was able to collect the IP addresses of visitors in real time, as well as the search terms that visitors used to reach the site from search engines like Google.
While it’s unclear just how many users were tracked, it is clear that intelligence agencies have the scope of their surveillance beyond terrorism. Your internet activity may make you an unlikely target of snooping that goes beyond the widespread collection of metadata the National Security Agency is already under fire for.
The danger of this kind of unchecked government monitoring is that law-abiding people around the world my begin self-censoring their online activities for fear of being caught in a digital dragnet. F-Secure’s Chief Research Officer Mikko Hypponen often points out that if you give the wrong person your internet search history and five minutes, you could be framed for any crime.
So what can you do to avoid being spied on by people who have access the web’s backbone? You can try to go off the grid. Switch to cash, use bitcoin to avoid banks and stick to pre-paid phones.
But how about surfing online?
Karen Reilly of the Tor Foundation recently spoke to F-Secure about the lessons they’ve learned by providing a way to surf anonymously to millions around the world:
Freedome by F-Secure is a next-generation solution that provides security you’ve come to expect but with radical new privacy tools that allow you to connect safely on any networked without being tracked by anyone. You can set your location virtually to be anywhere in the world at any time. And it’s all powered by a cloud that’s located in Finland, outside the reach of the NSA or NATO. With one button you can turn on and connect to any site you wish, without the fear that you’re helping the government build a case against you.
In a post-Snowden world, freedom is still worth fighting for. Until the governments of the world change, the tools that are used to keep the masses in check can also be used to help us be a little freer.
[Image Richard Smith | Flickr]
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