How to stop the NSA from spying on you?
Unfortunately, it’s a question that doesn’t have a simple answer. There’s no way to block NSA surveillance completely. Even if you ditched your mobile phone and avoided using heavily-tracked web services like Facebook and Google, you’d still be on surveillance cameras that capture your face, license plate scanners, and credit databases, among other things.
But let’s not get pessimistic. There are tools you can use to make it harder for others to track you. They won’t eliminate your footprint, but they’ll blur the picture of you that emerges through your data. Read on to learn about them.
How Does Surveillance Happen?
Let’s start with a little context. It’s important to remember that almost all surveillance starts with private companies. Apple, AT&T, Microsoft, Google, Verizon… Companies like these mine your data for commercial reasons. However, if law enforcement asks them for this data, they may have to share it.
Staying more private means keeping your data out of the hands of the private companies that feed the government and data brokers that collect this information from a wide variety of sources. Recent events show that data brokers sell people’s personal information to law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
Once the private sector collects personal data, three main things can happen to it.
1. It’s lost in a data breach. With hacks and data breaches happening almost daily, at least some of your personal information has probably already been exposed.
2. The company misuses it in a way you didn’t expect or intend, that violates your privacy, or that makes you uncomfortable. Facebook is a champion of this kind of misuse by constantly changing its privacy policies and eroding default protections.
3. The government may use it. Enter PRISM and the NSA.
The results are the same whether you’re concerned with 1, 2, or 3. The solution for consumers is also the same: use tools and best practices to avoid private companies from accessing your data in the first place.
We recommend the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Surveillance Self-Defense site and Prism-Break.org for in-depth guides on how to stay private, as well as r/privacy for any privacy questions you may have. R/privacy also has a good wiki page where you can learn about privacy technologies and tools, including secure chats, reliable virtual private network (VPN) services, and secure email services.
Alternatively, a good starting place if you’re a Firefox user is this collection of simple-to-use privacy add-ons.
How to Stop the NSA from Spying On You: Mindset
Adopt the mindset of only giving out the personal data you absolutely must—for example, at checkout or when signing up for an online account—to reduce your digital footprint significantly.
Terms of Service; Didn’t Read is a good resource that can help you avoid companies that don’t respect your privacy. Even still, your personal data is likely to be collected and sold by data brokers. Data brokers are companies that collect our personal information from online and offline sources, compile it into thorough profiles, and sell it to anyone who wants it. Read more about these companies in our ultimate guide on data brokers, and then take the time to opt out of them.
Just as one bad actor can induce a privacy scare, one good actor – like Edward Snowden or you – can take the necessary steps to reduce your exposure and strengthen your sense of privacy.
Most of the recent stories about big data collection and breaches have a central theme: the little guy matters and can do something. Whether that individual is a Facebook user who refuses to give the site their real name, an NSA whistleblower who tells the world when it’s being watched, or a person using a tool to block companies from tracking them online, each person has the power to move privacy forward or diminish it.
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