Months ago, when America installed Donald John Trump, to the surprise of many of my close friends and colleagues, to the highest office in American politics, I made two predictions. The first was that he wouldn’t touch any free trade agreements despite his campaign platform’s nationalist messaging. That prediction was proven patently false when he dropped the TPP in late January. The second prediction was that his administration would inadvertently be the best thing to happen to online privacy in decades. I maintain that Trump and his associates are thoroughly proving me correct, and that’s because they’re transparently eroding technological freedoms in the US, not despite it.
Trump Complacency, Practice Vigilance
Say what you want about Trump and the people he surrounds himself with, everything they do is bold. I don’t think that it’s any secret that subtlety is not the current administration’s forte.
This is good for our privacy for a number of reasons, the most important of which becomes apparent with the Trump-critical media. The president has operated under the media’s microscope since his campaign, and now that he and the people working under him are taking a claw-hammer to our technological liberties, online privacy and security are squarely within the Overton Window of outlets that normally have very little interest in them.
In a turn of ironic prophesy fulfillment, Trump has strengthened the causes for online privacy by aligning them with a critical mainstream media. Online privacy has always been the responsibility of the individual, and this is the first time in a very long time that anyone outside of technological niche outlets have covered ways to go ensure or strengthen it.
No longer is Tor ‘just for criminals and paedophiles,’ nor is encrypted files and communications. If the Trump administration moves any further than they already have against net neutrality or online privacy, we may well see private-by-default interaction become the norm on the American internet.
Practical Privacy for the Individual
As much as I’d love to chastise the reader for not accessing the site via Tor or using PGP-encrypted email as their sole means of communication, there are reasonable (although unfortunate) sacrifices made to privacy for regular people who need to do business and communicate with others. Here’s some practical recommendations the average user can take to increase their privacy.
The first, and perhaps the easiest, is to install a few privacy add-ons in the web browser. Extensions like uBlock origin, Privacy badger, self-destructing cookies, and track-me-not disable many web-based telemetry techniques while preserving a good user experience. They can also marginally increase performance on sluggish, content-heavy pages by removing some of the telemetry overhead.
The second recommendation would be to default to end-to-end encrypted communication platforms, like Signal or Wire, and to enable it in things like Whatsapp and Telegram. Avoid communicating through social media and SMS for sensitive discussions, or anything you don’t want others to read.
The third, most important one, given recent developments concerning the sale of our Browsing history, is to get a log-free VPN, or use Tor when browsing the web. A VPN is essentially a tunnel that masks your traffic from prying eyes, and gives you a measure of anonymity when connected to the internet. That privacy only goes as far as your trust in the service you choose, however, so finding one outside of US jurisdiction, that doesn’t keep logs on user traffic is ideal. As with everything in privacy, it’s your responsibility to provide it for yourself, and doing due diligence and research is part of that responsibility.
Perhaps those proscriptions aren’t enough for your peace of mind, or you want a way to contribute to online privacy activism under Trump.
Well, luckily, there is something you can do: run a Tor relay and exit node. Not everyone can afford a VPN, and people under, other, much more authoritarian regimes have no other avenue to secure access. The Tor network relies on people running relays and nodes to contribute their bandwidth to route traffic anonymously, and the more individuals doing so strengthens the network by making it faster and more resistant to attacks by state actors. By participating, you actively undermine efforts to surveil and censor people all over the world.
How are you protecting your privacy in today’s surveillance state? Let us know down below.
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