4 Steps to immunity from UK snooping laws
Last week's draft Communications Bill outlines how civil servants are again intent on surveilling the internet communications of innocent British citizens. Fortunately, Free Software provides several ways with which you can protect your privacy online, regardless of the measures that the Coalition may impose upon you or your telecoms providers.
- Browse securely with HTTPS
- Internet Service Providers like Virgin, SKY, and BT, can see everything that customers browse. The Communications Bill would require that the Government also has easy access to this information.
- Fortunately, it takes seconds to encrypt your browsing by default, using a Free Software browser add on for Firefox and Chrome / Chromium.
- Try: Installing 'HTTPS Everywhere' in your web browser. That's it - all websites that support content encryption will use it by default. Both ISP and Government will know what websites you visited, but not the actual content that you viewed or downloaded.
- Encrypt your instant messaging
- XMPP (also known as Jabber) is an encryption-friendly Open Standard which is already used by both Google and Facebook chat, and is well supported by clients on all platforms (Android, iPhone, GNU/Linux, Windows, Mac).
- Combined with 'Off The Record' - an optional encryption protocol, XMPP offers easy to use, widely supported, heavy-weight privacy.
- Try: Installing an XMPP client, like Pidgin on your desktop, or Beem on your Android smartphone, and enabling Off The Record. If you don't already have an XMPP access through one of your existing web services, you'll need to register a new one, free of charge. Then chat with your XMPP contacts securely.
- Use a pro-privacy social network
- Some social networks keep your data and share it with companies and Governments. Others let you decide where it is stored, when it is deleted, and what is shared with whom.
- Try: Registering an account with a Diaspora pod - choose from the list here (additional privacy ratings here), searching for people who you know and share your interests, and posting some updates. You can simultaneously send messages from Diaspora to Facebook and Twitter, but beware of losing the privacy benefits if you do.
- Encrypt your emails
- Email snooping is a key part of the proposed bill, as email is the most heavily used system that it covers. GNUPG offers widely used, rock solid email protection based on public and private keys. It can be fiddly to set up, but once that's done it typically works reliably and conveniently, and is supported by mail clients on most platforms, including Android.
- GNUPG emails can only be sent to people who also use it, which restricts how frequently you can use it. For people you email regularly though, or those to whom you need to send particularly private messages, its worth setting up. You can check if the intended recipient is already a user by searching for them on a keyserver. Once encrypted, an email cannot be read by a third party, even if they have copies of it, or access to your computer.
- Try: Installing GNUPG with a Free Software helper app on GNU/Linux, Anrdoid, Mac, or Windows (you may also need to install an add-on for your mail client, like Enigmail for Thunderbird). Follow the instructions to generate a key for yourself, importing the key of someone you know, then sending them an encrypted email. GNUPG also enabled you to sign emails and encrypt files, but that won't protect you from the bill.
Following these four measures will shield you from some, but not all of the proposed bill's measures. For even more extensive privacy you may wish to consider using encrypted Free Software Voice Over IP for your calls, and keeping your in-game chat to a minimum.