Why is Digital Privacy Important?
The recent stories about Cambridge Analytics, Facebook, Google metadata mining etc all give me pause. Privacy is a huge subject (as I learned as I was researching this article). What information about your life is available for someone to analyze?
We are social beings. We interact with family and friends, coworkers, customers, etc. In each case we decide how much personal information we will provide to that person. And while we have certain people in our lives that know us more intimately, there is an expectation that private conversations are private. This is not the case in the digital world and things you say or do on line can be accessed by third parties and used for purposes other than you originally intended. There are numerous examples – such as Anthony “Carlos Danger” Weiner’s flirty SMS texts submarining first his Congressional seat and then his aspirations to be NYC Mayor.
Let me break it down old school for you. In SERE Training (Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape), we had a module on resisting interrogation techniques. One of the common techniques is called the dossier method. Basically the interrogator has a thick file in front of him and asks a few questions about topics that the subject/interviewee may not think (or believe) that the interrogator knows the answer. If the subect attempts to evade the answer or lie, the interrogator provides the correct answer or calls the subject a liar or tosses things around the room (go watch any cop show and you will likely see a version of the dossier method). The objective is to make the subject believe that the answers for all the questions are already known so the interrogator can move to unknown topics and get truthful answers because the subject is now believing (mistakenly) that the interrogator already knows the answer.
So your digital presence / footprint essentially provides the dossier of information that an interrogator can leverage. Depending on how much information is available, they may not even need to question you. What is scary is they may know things about you that you thought were very private or that you thought were so petty / innocent that you have completely forgotten about them. .
If we look at Law Enforcement, even if they have a lot of information, they want you to confess as it makes their job so much easier. I encourage you all to watch the Youtube video by Regent Law Professor James Duane regarding why you should never talk to the police at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-7o9xYp7eE (note that it is a little long at over 45 minutes but the professor gives equal time to a police detective) BLUF [Bottom Line Up Front]: you have a 5th Amendment Right to not incriminate yourself which means you never have to answer any questions from the police. Note in particular that the police ARE PERMITTED TO LIE TO YOU when questioning you, basically if you are being detained or under arrest – you should get a lawyer.
In this day and age, perhaps you need to consider if the information you are sharing on line could end up being accessed by others. We have seen customs agents at the border take cell phones and download all the data. This could even happen overseas if you travel abroad. But what about if the police (or someone else) has access to everything you have ever written or recorded on line? On a recent trip to Saudi, my co-worker unseated his SIM card so if they did grab his phone, they wouldn’t be able to see some of his personal data.
You may have incriminated yourself in some violation of some law somewhere on line (and there are thousands of federal regulations out there that essentially insure that everyone has violated some law at some point). Law Enforcement grabs your laptop and phone and suddenly they have the information to file a case against you.
While we don’t have an explicit right to privacy, it is alluded to in the 4th Amendment against warrantless searches. In the wake of Snowden’s disclosure of the broad reach of global surveillance practices of the NSA and other nation states – you can pretty much rest assured that anything that you have done electronically is recorded somewhere and someone can ferret out a lot of details about you.
But I am not an international (or domestic) terrorist! (you might say to yourself). While you might not need to worry about nation states tracking your info - your digital history might be used or abused bureaucrat acting outside his official capacity, by a criminal seeking to use that information against you, or by a company trying to manipulate your behavior (get you to buy a good or service). And you may have provided that information for a legitimate purpose to a one company, agency, friends and it was then stolen by hackers, accessed by someone who isn’t supposed to use it, sold by that company to another company, or datamined by a third party. And the latter is essentially what happened with Cambridge Analytica and Facebook. Cambridge posted a personality test on FB and were able to use the hundreds of thousands of responses to access millions of their contacts and then their contacts’ contacts, and so on and so on… it is six degrees of Kevin Bacon accelerated digitally at the speed of light.
Ok so maybe you can limit the data that goes on line by reducing your digital footprint. However there is information that you might not even be aware is being gathered through smart devices that are tracking your behavior patterns to develop tailored marketing of ads to your interests. That handy Find your Phone feature also will allow someone else to know where you are. How many apps have asked you to disclose your location? You photos may have a digital GPS tag on them. It boogles the mind how much data is available on each and everyone of us… and now companies have the computing power to mine that data for their own purposes.
I was going to anecdotaly comment that I have a friend that is convinced that Facebook is listening to him through his smart phone, but that was just confirmed by the Cambridge Analytica whistleblower (https://pjmedia.com/trending/cambridge-analytica-whistleblower-facebook-may-listening-home-work/). My advice is delete Facebook and Facebook Messenger off your smart phone as a start, but so many other apps are owned by FB (or Google) so unless you are going to go off the grid, by default you are sharing some data.
Your webcam on your computer can be activated remotely and the light may not even come on. I saw a funny Facebook post (there are several versions): “My wife asked me why I carry a gun around the house. I answered Government Conspiracy. She laughed. I laughed. Amazon Echo laughed. I shot Echo. It was a good time.” But the fact of the matter is that we are permitting devices in our homes that permit them to record not just our commands but to listen passively for anything and everything.
So what is the take-away for a prepper?
One, you should be aware that things you thought were private might be available to third parties that you aren’t even aware of. Everytime you post something on line, you click a link, you share, like or comment: it allows someone else to crunch data on your behavior. So when you get on line, think about what you are doing before you do it.
Two, what things do you really want to keep private? Those are things that should never be on line at all.
Three, get a VPN for your computer and your smart phone. Particularly if you are going on public WiFi at airport, coffee shops, hotels.
Four – think OPSEC. Operational Security is not talking about things that you want to keep confidential. You might want to forego that SMS or e-mail and have a conversation. Words disappear once uttered, e-mails are forever.
De Oppresso Liber