(Note: On most devices, words in darker type, like this, can be clicked for further information.)
Events since the inauguration have underscored how critical it is for any activist to protect your data privacy in this emerging brave new world. If you had any hope the new administration would appreciate or respect your privacy rights, consider these developments:
- The president has appointed Rudy Giuliani — yes, the guy who ignored advice not to house New York City’s emergency command center in the World Trade towers — to head U.S. cybersecurity efforts. The Web site of Giuliani’s security firm has been offline since shortly after the announcement, when independent experts found the site to be ridiculously insecure. Additionally, Giuliani’s own account password was hacked and published online. An incompetent White House cybersecurity effort will leave us all more vulnerable as hackers gain ever more sophistication and the government goes the opposite direction.
- Even conservatives are alarmed by the privacy views of Cabinet members selected by the new president. CIA director-designate Mike Pompeo favors lifting nearly all restrictions on government spying on the citizenry, favoring a Big Brother type of monitoring system. Conservative Review quotes Pompeo: “Congress should pass a law re-establishing collection of all metadata [who we contact and when], and combining it with publicly available financial and lifestyle information into a comprehensive, searchable database. Legal and bureaucratic impediments to surveillance should be removed.”
- The executive order regarding refugees that has sparked such an uproar contains a lesser-known provision that attempts to strip all privacy rights from people who aren’t U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents.
- The White House is considering requiring anyone visiting the United States to divulge Web sites they visit, including social media, as well as their contact lists. Experts point out that bad actors will simply lie or hide their tracks, while honest individuals will have their privacy destroyed. If this doesn’t persuade you of the administration’s utter contempt for Constitutional privacy rights, consider the next point:
- It’s disturbing enough — even to some leading Republicans — that the president appointed white nationalist Steve Bannon to the National Security Council (NSC). But less noticed: At the same time, he demoted the Director of National Intelligence and the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — i.e., the nation’s top intelligence and military officials. Those two will attend meetings of the NSC Principals Committee only when "issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are to be discussed," according to a memorandum issued by the president on January 28. So, how might one define “national security” in such a way that it may not “pertain to the responsibilities” of the top intelligence and military officials, but would require the president’s Alt-Right-hand man? Suppression of domestic opposition, perhaps?
We Can Secure Our Own Privacy
So, we cannot count on the federal government to protect our security or privacy online. To the contrary, the government may become an enemy of privacy, snooping on citizens in an unprecedented way. It is no a stretch that a government that has already branded the news media as “the opposition” and said it should “shut up” will also consider citizens enemies for exercising our Constitutional rights to oppose its policies. But that doesn’t leave us defenseless: There are ways we can “harden” our online presence to protect ourselves and those with whom we communicate.
Consider carefully that last phrase. Even if you feel you have nothing to hide and you aren’t concerned about government intrusion into your privacy, what about the people who communicate with you? Their texts and e-mails are on your smartphone, too.
Fortunately, there are ways we can secure our information, currently. This may not last into the far future, as new technologies make it easier to “crack” encryption (scrambling of data), but presently, most cybersecurity experts believe it’s quite possible for the average person to protect her/his data. →