One in Three Americans Hide Data From Government (and You Should Too)

Crack the code on my selfies, you jerks


My cell phone is encrypted. It also contains two apps—TextSecure and RedPhone—for conducting secure communications. All I really need in addition is something worth keeping secret, unless a few notes for articles and photographs of my kid and my dogs make the cut. Still, it gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling to imagine government snoops someday devoting time and resources to find out that there's really nothing worth finding out—it's my little "fuck you" to them.

In these post-Snowden days, when the FBI just acquired wider authority to hack people's computers, plenty of other people seem to share my attitude, or maybe their lives are more interesting than my own, or both. About one out of three Americans make efforts large and small to conceal their activities and information from the government.

That bit of unencrypted data comes courtesy of the Pew Research Center. Pew found that nearly nine of ten Americans are aware of Edward Snowden's revelations about government surveillance of phones and the Internet. For a good chunk of people, Snowden's warnings provided incentive to change their ways. Write Pew's Lee Rainie and Mary Madden:

34% of those who are aware of the surveillance programs (30% of all adults) have taken at least one step to hide or shield their information from the government. For instance, 17% changed their privacy settings on social media; 15% use social media less often; 15% have avoided certain apps and 13% have uninstalled apps; 14% say they speak more in person instead of communicating online or on the phone; and 13% have avoided using certain terms in online communications.

Few of these changes are life-altering, but they do represent widespread discomfort with the government's snoopy ways. Think about the people who avoid "using certain terms in online communications." That means they're avoiding words like "explosive" in their Internet searches and emails in order to reduce the likelihood of official scrutiny. Do you think any of those people are happy about feeling obliged to modify their use of language out of fear that they'll incur the wrath of our acronym-laden guardians?

In fact, Pew found that 57 percent of people say its unacceptable for the government to monitor U.S. citizens.

In expressing their displeasure, that privacy-minded third helps others do the same even as they make the snoops' jobs a little harder. Acting to protect your data doesn't just protect your own information; it also help to normalize such efforts for others. One guy in a crowd wearing a Guy Fawkes mask is suspicious, but if a third of them are wearing masks it becomes just another characteritic and no one of the anonymous people stands out.

That's partially why FBI Director James Comey is so upset about the encryption software that's increasingly standard on cellphones, and about similar technology elsewhere.

"What concerns me about this is companies marketing something expressly to allow people to hold themselves beyond the law," he whined to reporters when Google and Apple announced that encryption would soon be a default setting. That's because, up until now, encryption has required some effort and the people who bothered to do it were those who cared about their privacy and may well have information they'd like to keep private. Getting access to that information might or might not be doable for the NSA and the Comeys of the world, but those who protected their info it stood out.

But if lots of people use encryption…

And if lots of people act in myriad ways to protect their privacy, it's much harder not just to randomly hoover information, but to target people because they "suspiciously" seek to avoid said hoovering.

So encrypt your phones and computers, tweak your privacy settings, and guard your conversations. Make the snoops work for the data they want to extract.

And if the feds ultimately decide to devote time and effort to hack our information, whether or not we have deep dark secrets to hide? Well, my kids and my dog are pretty damned photogenic. A peek at the photos is its own reward.

And so is contributing to a culture that normalizes privacy and makes it harder for government snoops to suck up our data.

NEXT: Even Fake Fiscal Restraint Is Too Much for the GOP's Defense Hawks

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  1. No one wants to see your selfies. Keep that encryption unbreakable, like a Hollywood spy.

  2. One in three? That doesn’t sound very high. Especially when you take into account financial data.

    1. Wasn’t it found that Americans have one of the highest tax-compliance rates in the world, way, way ahead of the enlightened European countries?

      1. Not sure. I don’t know how much stock I’d put into it if it was a self reported survey, though.

        We have way better tax loopholes than most, but not all, European countries. If you have enough money, you can pay someone to help you hide it, and you’d still be in “compliance”.

        1. I dunno, I take the position that if you’re in “compliance” you’re not “hiding anything” but “protecting” it.

          Needs moar scare quotes.

  3. A third of Americans are traitors.

    1. yes, so that leaves 1/3 that don’t hide their data and are not traitors… or is there overlap?

    2. I think your math is broken – One minus 1/3 is two-thirds, not one third.

  4. Correction: one in three Americans tries to hide data from government. Secondly: one in three thinks they’re successfully hiding data from government.

    *looking at you, tor users*

    1. Wait, are you saying that a network designed by and for the government isn’t safe from the government? We’ll I’ll be…

  5. I hide my information in plain sight. Up my ass.

    1. How does that work, you tuck it between the prolapsed rectum and your underwear?

      1. I have help. From Lemmiwinks.

        1. None shall pass.

          Expect that pretty much everyone does. It’s Episiarch, after all.

    2. I hide my information in plain sight. Up my ass.

      Now everything you say makes sense…

      Where does Episiarch come up with this stuff?

      He just pulls it out of his ass!

      1. Now you’re getting it, Paul!

        1. Well at least nobody ever asks to borrow anything you own.

    3. Sorry, that won’t work. Cops have the power to do an inspection of your anus and rectal cavity (whether you consent or not) because FYTW.

    4. You’re a traitor from a race of traitors. Disloyal to the core. Rotten. Like the rest of your subhuman race. And you’ve got the gall… to make love to [random commenter]’s mom!

      1. (smacks FoE around a little)

        1. Ew! Ew! Pick my mom!

    5. Elizabeth Warren said the same thing, but Tony found everything.

  6. Only guilty people are afraid of government surveillance. What do you have to hide, Mr. Tuccille?

  7. In fact, Pew found that 57 percent of people say its unacceptable for the government to monitor U.S. citizens.

    A figure I’m sure the next round of elections will bear out.

  8. I’m pretty sure the number is much closer to 100% if we were to consider such things as income tax data.

    1. I think somebody named Playa Manhattan just said that.

      1. Simpsons did it!

      2. Sevo filters the shit out of you.

        1. He loves me. I remind him of the son he never wanted.

          1. Naah.
            More like the one I kicked out of the house…

            1. At age 16, or 40? Big difference…

      3. That’s what I get for posting before reading…

  9. I load my cell phone full of misinformation then leave if unencrypted.

    Of course, most of it points to H&R, so many of you could be fucked.

  10. it’s my little “fuck you” to them.

    I love you, 2Chilly. That’s also the reason I always opt out of the airport RapeyScanners.

    1. That, and the free old-fashioned.

        1. And by “free”, I mean the $10 they add to the cost of your ticket.

  11. It seems to me that the results of this survey should be viewed with great skepticism. What percentage of the people actually hiding information from the government do you think would also hide that information from someone taking an “anonymous” “survey”?

    “Hi, I’m NOT from the government, and I’d like to know if you’re hiding anything from the government. Did I mention that I’m NOT from the government? Because I’m NOT. And we absolutely will not be taking a closer look at you, mister, if you say you are hiding something from the government. Because we do NOT work for the government.”

    1. Yeah, I immediately came to pretty much the same conclusion.

  12. The base notion in this piece is “That’s none of your business.”. THIS is what will set any cop off on a spree of wreckage and havoc.

    When any cop inquires “Where are you going?” and you?quite rightfully? tell them “That’s none of your business.”, these people go bonkers on you. It is game on. They will show YOU which end is up.

    When any cop asks you what you have in the trunk of your car, and you reply “Nothing that is remotely any of your business.”, you have set off a psycho on a mission. He’ll do his best to make you wish you’d never told him to buzz off.

    You see, even if you had a dead body in your trunk, or you were on your way to an “islamic” bomb making meeting, those things are now unimportant: That you told that cop that something was none of his business is THE mortal sin.

  13. my neighbor’s step-sister makes $82 /hr on the laptop . She has been fired from work for 9 months but last month her pay was $19160 just working on the laptop for a few hours. go
    ????? http://www.Jobs-Fashion.Com

  14. Sorry. Slightly off topic:

    Another over zealous police attack in New Jersey.…..ed_an.html

    1. Sorry. My work computer won’t let me use TinyURL, so you’ll have to knit this together if the above doesn’t work.

  15. if lots of people simply said “no” to the TSA goons demands for ID, then even more people would start standing up for their right to travel without government interference.

  16. There’s plenty of evidence pointing to most of the tech giants being in bed with the government when it comes to spying on our citizens (and everyone else’s for that matter). Chances are probably better than not that any software, or even hardware, being used to attempt to “hide data from the government” only succeeds in sending said data directly to the government with a big red flag on it.

  17. I don’t believe that 90% of Americans are aware of Edward Snowden’s revelations about government surveillance of phones and the Internet. Having heard dismal stats of what American’s don’t know (vice president, where oceans are, etc) I can’t believe they are up to speed on Snowden.

  18. I’m amazed no one mentioned the recent pilfering of access codes from the major manufacturer of SIM cards in Europe (some of which are no doubt destined to be sold in Murrika???). Now THAT is imaginative. Not only not killing the goose that lays the golden egg, but genetically modifying it to lay only 24 carat!!
    I love this country….never a dull moment. I wish to hell I’d been born with that comedian’s gene; I’d NEVER run out of material.

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