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Silent Circle is an intriguing one-stop encryption solution. Developed by Phil Zimmermann, the inventor of the Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) encryption system, Silent Circle enables users to protect their text messages, video, and phone calls as well as their email. Zimmermann and his colleagues claim that neither they nor anyone else can decrypt messages sent across their network. This kind of security doesn’t come free: Silent Circle charges $10 per month.
You might consider protecting the data already stored on your computer by using free encryption software from TrueCrypt. If you keep data in the cloud, you might use SpiderOak, which bills itself as a “zero-knowledge” company. That means it does not have any way to decrypt the data you store with it. But SpiderOak will provide personally identifiable information about users to law enforcement agencies if legally required to do so. The company offers two gigabytes of free storage for beginners.
With regard to encrypting data, you should keep in mind United States v. Fricosu, a recent federal criminal case. Colorado Springs resident Ramona Fricosu and her husband were accused of mortgage fraud in which they obtained titles to homes facing foreclosure, sold them, and then did not pay off the original mortgage. Citing the Fifth Amendment’s ban on compelled self-incrimination, Fricosu refused to give police the password to her encrypted computer. A federal judge ordered her to provide the password or supply a decrypted hard drive to the police. She claimed to have forgotten the password, but her ex-husband offered the police some plausible possibilities, one of which worked.
Now for some bad news. Telephone metadata of the sort the NSA acquired from Verizon is impossible to hide. To connect your calls, the phone company needs to know where you are located. Of course, you can avoid being tracked through your cell phone by removing its battery (unless you have an iPhone), but once you slot it back in, there you are.
For much more information on hiding from government monitoring, check out the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Surveillance Self-Defense Web pages at EFF.org.
Wuergler is sanguine about NSA snooping. “To me personally, I think it’s an acceptable risk,” he says. “I believe that it’s not being used on a mass basis against American citizens. At least I hope not.”
Me too. But I want to rely on something more than hope when it comes to fending off government snooping.