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Aug 03 2013

Protecting yourself from the government

I have written before about how one should never answer the questions of any law enforcement officers who come to question you unless you have a lawyer present.

Reader SC (Salty Current), OM provided an excellent document produced by the Center for Constitutional Rights that explains what you should do if someone ever wants to question you.

Meanwhile, the NSA surveillance stories have increased interest in finding search engines that do not store the information, do not use it to sell to marketers and do not leave an identifiable trail. One such search engine is DuckDuckGo. Another that I heard about from after my posts on this topic is StartPage which makes the following privacy claims and compares them to those of more well known companies in the wake of the NSA revelations.

I am not a technology expert and don’t know how to judge how successful these companies are at keeping your information private but I am sure that some readers know and hope they will chime in with information and even more suggestions.

As for me, while I am a private person by nature and will be using these alternative engines for searches, I feel that I should not have to work so hard to keep my information private, and resent being forced to do so. I am a curious person and look for information on a wide variety of topics, many of them political. I am certain that I am leaving a long trail of keywords in searches that some algorithm somewhere will trigger as being suspicious. But the idea that I should curb my curiosity to avoid such triggers is offensive to me and I refuse to play along.

I do not feel I should need to take extreme measures to protect my privacy from government snooping and becoming the target of unwarranted questioning. Like being able to assume innocence until proven guilty, one should assume that the government should not be able to keep tabs on people without probable cause. But those days may be gone forever.

What we have to do is be aware of, and use, our legal and constitutional rights if ever we are questioned by the government, and refusing to talk without a lawyer present is a basic step in that direction.

8 comments

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  1. 1
    Chiroptera

    I use Duck Duck Go as my search engine. They claim that they do not store any information about your searches themselves. If you don’t have the information to begin with, you can’t give it to anyone else, subpoena or not. Be aware, though, that if you do an image search they seem to use Bing.

    What I would like to do is figure out how to keep me web surfing information from being stored by my ISP. I realize the security forces can always get what information they want about me, but I’d like to make them work a little harder for it.

  2. 2
    cotton

    To Chiro and, anyone else really: There is no real way to hide from your ISP. Generally speaking, if someone is “higher” on the network hierarchy than you, they see everything you do. If you go to a site from Google, they know about it. If you go to google, your ISP knows about it, if you go to your ISP wirelessly or through a router, that person knows about it. Heads up, and happy surfing :)

    (note: I did leave out proxies, which can hide from a site where you came from, but you still aren’t hiding from the ISP or escaping the rule of hierarchies I laid out. They make you harder to trace back to, but no harder to trace from. )

  3. 3
    Paul Jarc

    What I would like to do is figure out how to keep me web surfing information from being stored by my ISP.

    Tor would take care of that. It won’t help with servers that track you using browser fingerprinting, but it would keep your ISP in the dark, since all the direct traffic from your machine is encrypted and routed through a randomly chosen series of proxies.

  4. 4
    ttch

    We don’t have independent evidence that these “non-tracking” search engine companies are what they claim. Maybe the NSA or whoever, wants people who don’t want to be tracked to identify themselves by using such a service. Yes, the circumspect and the paranoid will vastly outnumber any real threats to national security but the overall volume will be a fraction of Google’s.

  5. 5
    Trickster Goddess

    Startpage.com uses Google for the actual searches but acts as a proxy so Google doesn’t know the search actually came from you. Startpage also offers the option in the search results to view the destination pages through their proxy. A sister website, ixquick.com does the same but does a meta-search of the queries through non-Google search engines.

    For regular web browsing, there are a number of plugins that can be helpful:

    HTTPS Everywhere (Firefox, Chrome) is produced by the EFF and changes the default contact method to many major websites to the encrypted https protocol. It prevents anyone from knowing the content you are viewing but doesn’t stop them from knowing you went to a particular website.

    Advertising networks, social networks and statistic collection services, such as StatCounter, can track a person across a multitude of sites and compile a history of your websurfing. For example, freethoughtblogs.com has 6 companies tracking readers who come to this page.

    DoNotTrackMe (Firefox, Internet Explorer, Chrome, and Safari) will block all the trackers and protect your privacy. Sometimes it might prevent some features, such as a comments section, from loading but trackers can be selectively unblocked on a per website basis.

    The strongest privacy protection for surfing is to use the Tor Browser Bundle (Windows, OSX, Linux, or Orbot for Android.) The Tor Browser is a customized version of Firefox that routes all traffic through the TOR network to hide your location and identity and prevent traffic analysis.

    From your ISP’s point of view, all they know is that you made an encrypted connection to a TOR entrance node but cannot know what website you visited or the contents of the pages. From the webserver’s view, all they know is the IP of the TOR exit node, but not where the page request originated from. In between the traffic is bounced through a number of volunteer anonymous relay nodes around the world to obfuscate the trail. The relay nodes cannot read the encrypted traffic and cannot identify the originating user or the destination website.

    There are some limitations, such as clicking on a flash video that will cause it to bypass TOR and reveal your location to the site.

    TOR isn’t absolutely foolproof, but the powers that be need to be tracking you in realtime and sufficiently interested in you to go through the amount of work required to try to find the trail. It does prevent anyone from compiling a history of your web activities.

  6. 6
    Acolyte of Sagan

    Surely if anybody wants to keep their searches, etc. secret, all they need do is invest in a ‘pay-as-you-go’ dongle; as long as they don’t identify themself when using it it’s no different to using a disposable ‘p-a-y-g’ phone. Their activity will still be stored, but with no way of linking it to an individual internet user.
    Obviously, I know the cube root of sod-all about computers, so I’m probably wrong.

  7. 7
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    Thanks for posting this!

    It’s especially difficult to just cut people off and tell them you’re not going to talk to them when you’ve been raised to act differently, so the advance knowledge of the tactics they use* and the suggestions for responses are very important to have.

    *(especially the information that they play on those ingrained impulses)

  8. 8
    Mano Singham

    This is great stuff! Thanks.

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