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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 8/13/13

How Edward Snowden Changed My Online Life

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Remember the 4th amendment? You know, the amendment in the Constitution that reiterated your right, as a human being, to the privacy of your belongings, your writings, your, well, everything? Before the attacks of 9/11 it went something like this:
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
From Your Rights, vs Government
Now, 12 years after 9/11, after the horror that is the "Patriot Act" and the actions of two successive presidents and Congress, we are left with the tattered remains of this once revered piece of American constitutional history. Edward Snowden wasn't the first person to tell us of these encroachments upon our constitutionally "guaranteed" rights, but he certainly got the most attention--and he got mine.

As revelation after revelation became public about the breadth and scope of the government's crackdown on the 4th amendment, I realized that changes needed to be made. For years, I have had a fair amount of distrust of our massive central government, but in this year, 2013, it crystallized in my mind exactly how out of control and dangerous our government has become to our way of life.

For years after 9/11, as Congress and the President (both of them) whittled away at our rights, discussion raged in the public sphere over where the line should be drawn between our rights and the need for protection from "the terrorists." Those of us who lean to the libertarian view of things argued vehemently, using the words of Benjamin Franklin, that if we sacrificed our liberties--our freedom--for a false sense of safety and security, then the terrorists would have won. No one wanted to listen. The Far Right called us nut jobs (and much worse). The Left simply didn't seem to care. From my perspective, the Democrats didn't (and still don't) recognize at all that there is a libertarian streak in our culture. We were right, however. The terrorists won--not on 9/11, but in the years since.

The "revelations" of Edward Snowden made ALL of this crystal clear in the last few months, and, with each new revelation, my distrust of all things Government grew. It was the final revelation, however, that truly made me change how I interact with the online world. That is the one, of course, in which we learned that the government is actively pushing large online companies like Facebook and Google to surrender our passwords.

For me, such an action would be completely unacceptable. I'm willing to post on Facebook anything I want anyone to know about me. My life is an open book, if you will. But I don't post anything online unless it's something I WANT someone to know. And I certainly don't want "the government," that ubiquitous, formless, all-engulfing entity that has the current president and certain members of Congress as its visible profile, to know my passwords--or anything else I don't explicitly give them permission to know.

With that in mind, I began taking extra precautions, based on a VPN account I already owned. What many people don't know is that if you type in a password, even on a "secure" sight represented by "https," the letters and words you are typing are not secure between your own computer and the receiving computer. Those letters, words, and sentences are roaming free through a series of routers and switches and other devices, and can be intercepted at any time during that transaction.

So I use a VPN. This inexpensive and highly functional form of connection creates an encrypted tunnel that makes your communications anonymous and provides the security of disguising your ip address. But, until Edward Snowden "happened" (yes, I think that will be a well-used term some day), that use of my VPN was more or less the full extent of my attempt to protect my data from prying eyes.

Edward Snowden changed all of that. I began adding layers of security to my interactions with the online world, and the revelation that the government wants our passwords completed my transformation from a relatively paranoid libertarian type to a full-blown paranoid type. I changed all of my passwords--every last one.

And I didn't just change them, I made them virtually impossible to crack. I downloaded a free program called "password keeper," which can generate up to a 64-character random password that is essentially impossible to crack. It would take a room full of super computers to hack one of these. So, if the government is truly interested in my completely mundane private conversations on Facebook with friends and family, they are going to have to spend a lot of computer cycles trying to figure it out. But by the time they do, I will have changed it again anyway, so they're wasting their time.

I also downloaded another free little program called a key scrambler. What this does is effectively encrypt every single keystroke that I type. Every keystroke shows properly in the place I'm typing it, but appears as complete gibberish in the realm that exists between my computer and the end computer. Good luck figuring out the passwords I type or paste in now!

On top of this added security, I also added another layer called HTTPS. That is an add-on for Chrome (and Firefox I think), which literally (no matter what I type in for an address or click on for a link) connects me to the secure socket on the remote node as long as one is available (and almost ALL the major websites have a secure socket to connect to).

Finally, because the government isn't the only evil entity attempting to get our data, I use and add blocker that is extremely effective. I also clean up after myself by using Cleaner to wipe out my online history every time I close my browser, and then I manually wipe out my DNS information in Windows.

All this may be overkill and perhaps completely unnecessary, but I am not willing to sacrifice my personal communications to the security state. They are MY communications and I do NOT give my government permission to access any of them, unless I post them in the public sphere. I don't want them knowing what I "Googled." I don't want them knowing what websites I visit. I don't want them knowing my passwords, or even attempting to get my passwords, and I don't want them violating my Fourth Amendment rights in any way, shape, or form.

I believe it is a sad reflection on our government when my biggest online fear isn't hackers who want to steal my information, but hackers who work for my government that want to capture everything I do online without my knowledge or my consent. I do NOT give my consent to this out-of-control criminal organization known as the United States government, and I certainly do not and will not allow it to compromise my privacy without a fight.
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