In 2013 the world was rocked by a trove of classified documents that made their way into the public eye, packed with details covering the most comprehensive international surveillance program ever constructed in modern history.
Leaked by none other than the now-infamous Edward Snowden, the Snowden Leaks uncovered a massive data-mining operation undertaken by the National Security Agency in the United States, and the GCHQ in Britain. This network was designed from the ground up to record as many phone calls, emails, text messages and search queries as it could, vacuuming up petabytes of data per day all in the supposed effort to “fight the war on terror.”
Since the news of programs like PRISM, XKEYSCORE, and MUSCULAR went live, people have been more concerned than ever about their personal privacy – and rightfully so. But it’s been four years since the leaks came out, so why is it still as important to keep your data safe today as it was back then? Read on to find out!
1. ISPs Can Sell Your Data
As if the government spying on you wasn’t bad enough, now it turns out your internet service provider has new incentive to sell your data to anyone willing to pay for it.
The Trump administration has been mired in controversy since taking over the reigns from Obama, so much so that it can be difficult to hear any actual news through all the noise. This may be part of the reason why – despite the original outrage over the NSA leaks – it was so easy for the United States Congress and Senate to sign a bill which essentially gives every ISP in the country the right to legally sell your internet history to whomever they want.
That’s right: your ISP – whether it’s a giant like Comcast or a local provider – is now legally allowed to track, collect, package, and bundle up any data transmitted over their wires and sell it to whomever they like.
The bill was signed into law last month, and now the race is on for every internet service provider in America to collect as much on you as they can while the price for that information is still high. This means both marketers and advertisers will be frothing at the mouth for a whole new range of options when it comes to targeting you and your family for ads through metadata, which is why it’s essential that you take control of your privacy back from your ISP in any way you can.
2. The Fight for Net Neutrality Rages On
In 2015, the Obama administration passed a comprehensive set of restrictions which imposed limits on how Internet service providers could deliver web content to their customers. The move was seen as a huge victory for net neutrality supporters everywhere, as its core achievement was to reclassify the internet in America as a public utility, rather than a privatized commodity.
Now, however, the ISPs seem to have their claws buried into the system deeper than ever, and are preparing to pounce in light of Trump winning the election. Just this week the newly appointed FCC chairman Ajit Pai asked a federal judge to rehear an appeal that would undo all the protections the Obama administration had put in place to keep the dream of net neutrality alive – and this is only the start.
Internet service providers see the Republican-controlled House and Senate as their best way forward in killing net neutrality once and for all. With Trump already signing off on the bill that allows ISPs to sell your data to marketing firms, these companies see the repeal of net neutrality protections as the next logical step in their mission for total internet control and unchecked information dominance. ISP’s have spent millions of dollars in legal bribes to politicians and “donations” to civil rights groups to kill Net Neutrality rules.
3. We’re More Mobile Than Ever
But not everything has to be about politics, right? In a world where no one even thinks about leaving their house without their smartphone attached to their hip, it’s important to know all the ways your device could be exposing you to hackers in the outside world.
First, there’s public WiFi hotspots. These openly available networks that you’ll find everywhere from your local library to Starbucks can be goldmines for hackers, as many of the devices that connect are not only insecure but only need to carry one small piece of malware with them to spoil the whole pot. Anytime you connect to a public WiFi network you’re opening a Pandora’s Box of privacy-invading possibilities.
Next, there’s the basic flaws in the ways that smartphones work which make them so much more vulnerable than most of the other systems we use. Just last month it was revealed that millions of smartphones running Broadcom WiFi chips could be exploited and controlled via strictly over-the-air techniques, meaning you wouldn’t even have to connect to a public hotspot to be vulnerable.
Last, there’s the sheer amount of data we keep on our phones and nowhere else. In 2016 a Federal Reserve report revealed that 62% of adults in America use their mobile phone to bank online, a sharp increase from 51% just the year before. If trends continue down this line, it may not be long before everyone is handling all their most sensitive documents directly from his or her phones, which means protecting our privacy on them should be one of the most important issues of this decade.
4. The NSA Leaks Were the Tip of the Iceberg
Although much of the public outrage surrounding the information found in the Snowden Leaks had almost died down completely by the early part of 2017, there wasn’t any indication that the NSA has had its powers to run those programs stripped, or that any of the major metadata collection has been stopped.
Then, just last month, a whole new tome of documents hit the airwaves thanks to the Assange & Co over at Wikileaks. Detailing many of the same surveillance tactics that the NSA originally dreamed up, this time it was the CIA under fire for tapping everything from your smartphone to your Smart TV, turning on microphones and gathering data while you’re trying to binge watch Game of Thrones with your family.
The government is not only continuing to monitor all of our information, and it’s improving and iterating on the same programs that first got them in hot water back in 2013. These rogue agencies answer to no one and act with impunity, which is why it’s imperative that the general public at large learn how to properly protect themselves from the prying eyes of the Five Eyes surveillance collective.
5. Because Privacy is a Basic Human Right
For all the news and legislative chaos currently surrounding the issue of online privacy, sometimes it can be difficult to see the forest for the trees. We can forget what it was like in a pre-digital age when the only way someone could find out who you were, what you liked, or what you were up to was by asking you directly or breaking into your home to find out.
The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution bars any government official – soldier, policeman or otherwise – from physically searching your personal belongings to dig for information without a warrant. This is an inalienable right that was bestowed upon us by the founding fathers of this country, and one that – given the rise of digital information – the government has mostly ignored under the guise of “fighting terrorism.”
When you take control of your internet privacy, you’re fighting back against a system which wants nothing more than your voluntary submission to their ways, and will exploit any part of the bureaucratic process it needs to to get there. Take control of your data, and educate yourself on who’s trying to take it away from you without your permission.
You can Fight Back. Here’s how
So at this point, you might be asking yourself: what can I do to protect my information?
For starters, we recommend reading our Introduction to Internet Privacy. It has a lot of great tips to help protect your privacy online. Check out our step by step guide on setting up your own free VPN server with Streisand. Does having your own free (except for the cost of leasing a server) private cloud sound useful? If so try Sovereign. It automatically sets up private email, VPN, file sync, backup, calendar, contacts, IRC bouncer and more!
If you would rather leave the VPN stuff to us then sign up for a 7-day no-risk trial of LiquidVPN. VPNs are one of the best and most accessible ways for the average Joe to protect themselves and their family’s data from anyone who might want to use it for ill gain. A VPN lets you know exactly when your communication channels are being encrypted, so you’re never left exposed to external threats that come your way. Using three of the latest in OpenVPN tunnel topologies, LiquidVPN goes out of its way to ensure that you always receive the best encryption standards possible, without sacrificing download speeds in the process.
Privacy is a dicey issue in today’s culture, and no one knows the right answer to every question. That said, your personal privacy is something we take very seriously here at LiquidVPN, and we stand behind our promise to keep you and your information safe from threats, whether they be foreign or domestic.