How To Avoid Government Spying
They’re watching. Revelations in recent weeks of the extensive programs that the United States government is using to spy on its citizens have made it clear that we live in a surveillance state, and it’s here to stay.
We’ve learned that the National Security Administration collects data on nearly every phone call made in America. We’ve learned they have the capacity to compile every bit of online activity we engage in. Feeling paranoid yet?
Much of the spying was actually authorized by Congress in the 2001 Patriot Act. Whether it’s constitutional is another matter, one that will likely be sussed out in the court system over the next several years.
“While some legal experts actually argue that the 4th Amendment does not provide a right of privacy, it is undeniable that we are to be protected against unreasonable searches and seizures,” says Jerry Lee Wallentine, a criminal defense attorney with Kansas firm Martin & Wallentine. “The problem is, who gets to decide what is reasonable? Our government will always push the limits, in an attempt to expand their power.”
Array of Tools
Uncle Sam has an impressive array of tools to check in on the nation’s citizens, some of which we know about, some of which we surely don’t. Sometimes the surveillance is unleashed as part of criminal investigations, and sometimes it’s used as a dragnet to collect any and all data available, as seems to be the case in the NSA phone program.
“Currently, the government tracks some people through cell phones, GPS devices, email monitoring, license plate captures, and even drone surveillance,” says Wallentine. “While they assure us that they are only using it appropriately and against the right people, can we really afford to just take their word for it?”
The U.S. Supreme Court sometimes intervenes to stop government overreach, the attorney points out, as it did last year in United States v. Jones in ruling that police cannot stick a GPS tracking device on a vehicle without a warrant. “However, it should be noted that the Court could rule differently next time on a similar issue, if there was a valid warrant or if the GPS device wasn’t placed on the vehicle through deceptive means,” Wallentine says.
Off the Grid
The bottom line is, any and all transactions and communications that we engage in that leave an electronic trail can be monitored, in real time or historically. However, there are ways to limit the metaphoric footprints we leave behind and keep some of our personal information out the NSA’s clutches.
- Use a pay-as-you-go phone for anonymity, so there’s no contract and your name isn’t associated anywhere with the number. Change the SIM card to further keep any call patterns from being tied to the phone.
- Look into anti-surveillance apps to encrypt, protect and erase information sent to and from a phone.
- Turn off the GPS function on your phone, or better yet remove the battery entirely to prevent cell tower triangulation, so your movements can’t be tracked.
- Use software to browse the Internet anonymously and mask your IP address to make it more difficult to follow your searches and activity.
- Emails can be encrypted to make them more difficult for the government to read and catalog.
Other people have dropped off the grid entirely and dispensed with any electronics that leave a trace, trading convenience and connectivity for independence and self-sufficiency. Communities grow their own food and use renewable power sources, living off the land, secure in the knowledge that their activities are untouchable by the electronic kit of government spying tools. Except for those pesky drones.