Be Very Afraid

What we should have known about government spying before Edward Snowden’s leak, why even innocent people have plenty to fear, and what you can do about it

(Page 5 of 5)

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

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. 

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Rufus J. Firefly||

    Does NSA's activities have an impact on data collecting in other countries?

  • Rufus J. Firefly||

    Hey, first!

    I'd like to thank all the children of the world who have been protected by all the progs who think of the children. I'd also like to thank God and his girlfriend, Julie, you rock! Oh, and my mother and father who without them I'd be nothing but an aimless bacteria.

  • Harvard||

    Always with the bad news this Reason.

    The Iceman is back with the Prancing Horse! Concentrate on the good news fer chrissakes.

  • Rufus J. Firefly||

    Here you go.

    Did I mention you look great today?

  • ||

    Rufus, I'm about to ruin your good news day. Look on the right side of that page, under "Do Your Part". It wants you to sign a petition. Refresh the page until you see the text "Amend the U.S. Constitution to Undo…" Click the green button (it won't sign the petition yet) and you'll get to see what grand and wondrous endeavor this petition needs your help for.

  • Rufus J. Firefly||

    Why those...

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    At any time, in any place, our trained snipers have you under surveillance and can drop you where you stand. Have a nice day.


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