If you are actively involved as an activist there is a good chance that you are under surveillance to some degree or another. After all, they would be stupid not to. How else will they find out what you plan to do next?
If they are interested in you, they will monitor all your online activities and intercept your email. They will see who your friends are and they will start to monitor them. But don’t suppose actual agents are used for such mundane tasks.
Computers monitor all of this and, when certain triggers are pulled, the surveillance moves up a notch and so on until it enters the physical world.
It’s not just the paranoid who need worry. The security services use algorithms of stunning complexity to seek out the expected and unexpected from all our communications.
While some people believe the Internet has set us free, there are a growing number who fear we are all voluntarily plugged into the finest surveillance apparatus ever devised.
“The internet, our greatest tool of emancipation, has been transformed into the most dangerous facilitator of totalitarianism,” insists Julian Assange in his book Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet.
“Within a few years, global civilization will be a postmodern surveillance dystopia, from which escape for all but the most skilled individuals will be impossible,” he warns.
In such a super-suspicious world, any activist would be wise to get into the habit of security early on and start employing a few basic counter-surveillance techniques.
Do not, for instance, do anything on your computer or personal device that might appear incriminating, and never use your personal email for business.
Compose sensitive documents and communications on a detachable drive or SD card, and then use any of a number of tools such as CCleaner to wipe your footprints. Shred everything you do not need to keep, including notes. When working on sensitive material, disconnect your computer from the Internet.
To make it harder for a Statistical Probability Analysis program to examine your emails and PMs, misspell words such as knew for new or seas for seize, and spell out dates. Also insert lengthy paragraphs of gibberish or spam into messages.
If you must use your own computer, employ a Virtual Private Network (VPN) such as VyrpVPN to mask your activities. Then tweak with your browser privacy settings – ideally use Firefox – and don’t use Google, use the Secret Search Labs engine or iXQuick.
For serious communications, only ever use a busy cybercafé or public library.
You might encrypt your email with a PGP key but be alert that the fact you have encrypted something will immediately draw interest. While 99% of mathematicians will agree that modern encryption techniques cannot be cracked, there are others in the intelligence community who believe they can.
And, if they can crack your PGP key or substitute it for a fake, they may impersonate you and send out bogus messages to cause confusion and paranoia throughout your group.
To seriously reduce the chance of your email being read, open a free email account anywhere and then give the address and log-in details to the other members of your group.
Messages are then written but saved as Drafts and never sent, which means they are never transmitted. The draft messages are then accessed by those with the password. Regularly switch addresses because overly-active draft boxes can also attract attention.
Simple options for quick communication include temporary email services like Guerrilla Mail and10minutemail, and email re-mailers such as W3 and Anonymouse which strip away all traces of the email’s origin and substitute their own.
Smartphones offer a high level of security if used with pay-as-you-go sim cards. Access a busy public Wi-Fi spot using a VPN like Hotspot Shield and then send texts via Secret SMS for Android and iOSwhile simultaneously streaming a YouTube video.
With Deep Web apps for smartphones and most other devices, the Tor Hidden Network offers a high degree of anonymity if combined with other tools such as the in-house email service TorMail or any of several PM options, including the German Privacy Foundation’s PrivacyBox, which can also be used on mobile devices.
Documents you don’t want to keep on your computer can be uploaded to a Deep Web file hosting site like PasteOnion, and protected with an impossible passphrase generated by an on-line password generator.
Initially, investigators will be looking in the most obvious places, so communicate somewhere odd. An idea place is within the Usenet Newsgroups where messages and attachments can easily be hidden within innocuous-sounding groups.
Newsgroups resemble an email system where anybody can post on any subject and anybody can read the messages. You need a low-cost subscription and Newsreader software which you can install on any device.
For those who wish to disappear entirely from view – even from the most determined and technically-sophisticated agency – you need to enter the realm of the Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games.
With World of War Craft drawing over 12 million participants and Second Life refusing to disclose any information about its residents, there are sizable crowds to hide amongst. At Wow, you can voice chat and PM as an Elf to an Orc; and nobody is going to be watching you then.
Criminals and worse discovered these virtual worlds long ago and use them to launder money and make payments. Today, the virtual currencies of these two virtual worlds are so huge as to be listed on the real world currency markets. Who is to say you didn’t mine a ton of virtual gold in the mythical land of Azeroth?
But, if you suddenly go off-radar, that will look very suspicious indeed. You might want to keep up a front with your regular lines of communication and online browsing and then throw a few curveballs. That way you might sow a little confusion and paranoia their way.
This article first appeared in Occupy.com on December 21, 2012