“There’s a way to look at digital communications in the past. I can’t go into detail of how that’s done or what’s done, but I can tell you that no digital communication is secure.”
Those were the startling words shared by former FBI Counter Terrorism agent Tim Clemente just over a decade ago on CNN on May 2nd, 2013. Clemente was asked about statements he made the day before on CNN’s program, Erin Burnett Outfront. In that conversation, Clemente hinted at the U.S. government having tools that were then unknown to most of the public in this pre-Snowden era.
The statement that all digital communication can be captured was reported on by Glenn Greenwald while still at The Guardian, Huffington Post, TruthDig, and the ACLU. The transcript of the conversation between Burnett and Clemente still exists on CNN’s website today. It reads:
BURNETT: Tim, is there any way, obviously, there is a voice mail they can try to get the phone companies to give that up at this point. It’s not a voice mail. It’s just a conversation. There’s no way they actually can find out what happened, right, unless she tells them?
CLEMENTE: No, there is a way. We certainly have ways in national security investigations to find out exactly what was said in that conversation. It’s not necessarily something that the FBI is going to want to present in court, but it may help lead the investigation and/or lead to questioning of her. We certainly can find that out.
BURNETT: So they can actually get that? People are saying, look, that is incredible.
CLEMENTE: No, welcome to America. All of that stuff is being captured as we speak whether we know it or like it or not.
Interestingly, Clemente’s statements appeared only 2 weeks before Edward Snowden’s trip to China with NSA secrets and his revelations about mass surveillance.
Despite admissions like Tim Clemente openly discussing the surveillance state, and further corroboration from whistleblowers like Edward Snowden, Daniel Hale, William Binney, Russ Tice, and others, most Americans are dangerously clueless or apathetic when it comes to privacy.
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Nonetheless, it is of absolute importance that those who care about liberty make an effort to protect their privacy whenever possible. Even if only in principle, we are better served by flexing our rights to privacy than quietly acquiescing to the invasive surveillance that has become normalized in our world.
While it is absolutely becoming increasingly difficult to maintain privacy beyond your front door (and in some cases, people have willingly given up privacy in their homes), the tips below will at the very least slow down any potential hackers, law enforcement, or government agents.
Your Digital Footprint
The most obvious way the modern person is sacrificing privacy is how we use the internet and connected devices. Particularly, your Internet Protocol (IP) address is being logged by advertisers, websites, and the NSA under programs like PRISM, which was revealed by Snowden in 2013. PRISM also gathers messaging data sent via Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, and other tech companies, while another program called Upstream taps into the so-called backbone of the Internet to gather data on targets.
In short, the IP address is a way for someone to track your general geographic location, usually your city or postal code. If they have additional information about you, such as your birthdate or Social Security number, a hacker might be able to steal your identity or impersonate you online.
There are innumerable additional ways in which the public has voluntarily given up privacy by using apps for convenience or entertainment. We must get smarter when it comes to protecting our digital lives.
What Can You Do About It?
First, let’s understand that it might be impossible to avoid all types of surveillance and privacy invasions on the internet. Most people accept a certain level of invasion of privacy by downloading apps and agreeing to Terms of Service on websites without reading them. With that in mind, I will make several suggestions and allow the reader to choose what best fits their lifestyle.
To reduce your digital footprint you can stop using apps immediately. While they might offer some level of convenience or features not available through the traditional browser, downloading apps is the number one way to compromise your computer, tablet, or phone. Instead, simply login to the website via the browser and you are immediately subject to less privacy attacks.
Another step would be to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) which allows you to obfuscate your IP address and location. This means that the digital trail you are leaving behind will show that you are actually someone located in Nigeria, not downtown Chicago. There are many VPN options available and we recommend doing your own research.
One option worth checking out is Mullvad VPN because they are fairly decentralized and allow you to signup without an email or phone number. You can even pay anonymously with cryptocurrency. There are also technologists launching so-called decentralized VPNs or dVPNs which are said to offer even more protection and security.
We’ve discussed your broader digital footprint, but what about the digital bread crumbs you leave on the various Big Tech social media apps you use? Social media is one of the most obvious paths for governments, law enforcement, and stalkers to choose when it comes to gathering data on a target. This is because we have largely voluntarily handed over this data in the form of “likes”, selfies (which are useful for facial recognition databases), and daily documenting of our personal lives.
In addition to our sharing of our own details, social media is also the home for ever-present hackers and scammers who seek to steal your identity, finances, and/or cause psychological harm.
Although it’s not explicitly a privacy concern, the 5th Generation of Warfare strategizing has turned social media and the internet itself into the battlefield. The difference with previous generations of warfare is that 5GW uses the internet, planted or fake stories, compliant journalists, fact checkers, and surveillance to put the people into an invisible prison.
What Can You Do About It?
To start, there is always the opt out option. This would entail avoiding social media altogether and limiting your use of websites which require private information to sign up. For most people, however, this is going to seem an extreme option. So, if you want to use social media, but you want to do it in a way that respects your privacy, you need to go outside of Big Tech.
Yes, despite their near monopoly status, there are websites/apps outside of Facebook, YouTube, TikTok, X, Instagram, etc. In fact, many of these “alternative” social media sites come with a much more customizable experience where you are actually in control of your own data. A few worth checking out are Odysee, Rokfin, Mastodon, Minds, and Peertube. Each of these have different functionality and use cases, but they offer methods of sharing your thoughts, ideas, and content to an audience or friends without sacrificing privacy.
When it comes to messaging friends, again, the most common apps are Meta’s Messenger and WhatsApp. If you want an alternative way to message and communicate with friends and family that doesn’t require giving up your whole history, check out Session, Status, or XMPP. Telegram is also a popular messaging app that offers encryption in one-on-one chats but should not be seen as a complete privacy solution.
For those who insist on using the Big Tech platforms (and I am one of them in my efforts to reach new people), I refer you back to my first section on your digital trail. Stop using apps. It’s that simple. When you download these Big Tech apps (or the app for your local gym, for example) you are often giving away permission to access your device, your camera, microphone, pictures, and sometimes, even messages.
Do yourself a favor and skip the apps. Go old school — use the browser to type in the address to your favorite Big Tech social media and login. This will greatly reduce the amount of your data they can access.
The rest of this list relates to the push towards a “SMART” world. This world has almost been termed the 4th Industrial Revolution, but more on that in a moment. For now, let’s focus on that tracking device emitting potentially high levels of radiation in your bra or back pocket that you call a Smart Phone.
As with most of our technological advancements the last few decades – including the internet itself – cell phones started out as tools for the military. These tools were designed by the U.S. Department of Defense, under the direction of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency or DARPA.
We’ve already touched on the Snowden leaks and we’ve known since the Church Committee hearings in 1975 that the NSA and other U.S. agencies were spying on Americans phone calls. The widespread adoption of the personal mobile phone accelerated the ability for government agencies to gather data from these devices. This opportunity for mass data collection has only increased with the advent of Smart Phones in 2008. As the devices morph from simple phones to an all-in-one machine which happens to make phone calls, they are a treasure trove of personal data.
What Can You Do About It?
I’ll start with the first piece of advice which most will not find applicable to their lives. Opt-out of Smart Phones. Or, opt-out of mobile phones altogether.
If you are not ready to take that “extreme” path, consider rethinking your relationship with your devices. Do you need to take the phone to the bathroom? Or on your walk with your dog and kids? Must all the apps have notifications which interrupt your own thoughts? Do you really need or use all those apps?
These are just a few simple questions to get you started on reframing how we relate to digital technology. We need to be careful not to allow the technology to control our habits or actions. In many ways, social media and the internet are already affecting our health and sanity, depending on how much time we spend on devices.
Now, if you can’t or won’t give up your cell phone addiction, consider purchasing a smart phone which actually respects your privacy. Several companies have popped up over the years offering a variety of services, from de-googled phones to phones built from the ground up with original software. Do your research and find one that works for you.
The only company I can personally vouch for is Above Phone, founded by my colleague Ramiro Romani. The Above Phone is a de-googled Pixel, stripped of all the spyware and loaded with Above’s custom suite of privacy tools. They also have their own VPN’s, email, and they recently launched their first version of the Above Book privacy laptop.
Moving beyond just the devices we hold in our hands, let’s take a look at the “smart” devices which are now a normal sight at any home appliances or electronics store. One of the most obvious is the “Smart TV”. These giant flat screens with cameras and microphones have been spying on homeowners since at least 2015. Even the CIA has the ability to spy on you through your Smart TV under program Weeping Angel. Additionally, you have virtual home assistants like Echo and Siri which are constantly listening in.
Privacy researcher Naomi Brockwell recently released an in-depth report on the ways in which “smart” cars are listening and spying on drivers. In 2020, I reported that companies at the CES 2020 displayed their plans for making use of the surprising amounts of data gathered by newer model vehicles. Amazon, Intel, Qualcomm, and Blackberry were among the companies seeking partnerships with automakers who are also searching for methods to monetize the data gathered by their vehicles.
In that article I noted that the Washington Post had recently spoken with automotive technology expert Jim Mason to learn what vehicle manufacturers are capable of seeing and hearing from newer vehicles. Mason noted that any time you plug a smart phone into a vehicle the vehicle will likely copy personal data.
“Among the trove of data points were unique identifiers for my and Doug’s phones, and a detailed log of phone calls from the previous week. There was a long list of contacts, right down to people’s address, emails and even photos,” the Post reported. The vehicle also collected information on “acceleration and braking style, beaming back reports to its maker General Motors over an always-on Internet connection,” the Post added. “Coming next: face data, used to personalize the vehicle and track driver attention.”
Another smart device that seems more and more common are doorbell cameras, most commonly Ring. I have reported over the years how Amazon is using Ring to build their facial recognition program Rekognition to create a neighborhood police state. The sad part is neighbors are unwittingly creating the surveillance state which will eliminate personal privacy.
What Can You Do About It?
There’s nothing wrong with wanting a new vehicle with all the features or the hot, new, must-have gadget. Just know that choosing to use said gadgets and vehicles will involve voluntarily giving up a bit of your own privacy.
However, I would again encourage opting out of these interactions altogether. We do not need to blindly use Smart tv’s, Echo, Ring Doorbell cameras, Smart refrigerators or toasters. Yes, you can choose to do so, but is your privacy not worth changing your actions and behaviors?
Personally, I don’t believe we should be normalizing surveillance in our homes, especially for the younger generations. At the very least, home should be the one place where children can feel free to express themselves freely without fear of strangers listening.
Data collection by smart vehicles is only one of a myriad of privacy concerns related to the 5G Smart Grid where cities, vehicles, phones, streetlights, and clothes are fitted with sensors as part of the Internet of Things. It’s important to become educated about the threats posed by these emerging “smart cities.”
As part of the advance to Smart Cities, anything that can be equipped with sensors will be. These sensors, we are told, will allow for a society that is better informed and capable of handling environmental catastrophes by gathering data on (and tokenizing) all life. In reality, this is essentially the digital panopticon of the future, where digital surveillance is omnipresent.
This is also what Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum, calls the 4th Industrial Revolution. This so-called revolution also lends itself towards more central planning and top-down control. The goal is a track and trace society where all transactions are logged, every person has a digital ID that can be tracked, using a Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) that can be turned off on demand, and social malcontents are locked out of society via social credit scores.
I have been fighting Smart City technology in Houston since October 2018, when the Mayor of Houston declared Houston the world’s first 5G Smart City. Since that time I have exposed how the Big Wireless industry has corrupted Houston’s Mayoral office. I have also recently exposed how digital billboard spying on Houstonians are now appearing all over the city. Houston has also recently announced the start of self-driving taxis in the city.
Clearly, the plans for Smart Cities are advancing, and Houston is but one of many cities destined to become privacy nightmares.
What Can You Do About It?
I believe the answer to the growing threat of Smart Cities — which itself is part of the Agenda 2030, Sustainable Development Goals plan outlined by the United Nations — is to exit these cities when possible. However, for many, many people, leaving the city is not a viable solution. In that case, oppose the implementation of Smart City technology at City Council, Town Council, School Board meetings, Tower Commissions, Wireless Commission, County Commissioner meetings etc. Attend meetings, organize in your community, run for local offices, and stop these policies before they even begin.
If we do nothing but complain on the internet, or give in to apathy, we are only failing ourselves and setting up future generations for a world without privacy and without liberty. Instead, I believe all free people should start taking steps to remove themselves from slavery systems, and begin supporting and/or building parallel systems outside of the mainstream. I call this Exit and Build. I believe this strategy — first outlined in my 2020 book How to Opt-Out of the Technocratic State — is the most conducive to saving privacy and liberty for future generations, and remaining free from the digital prisons.
One final bit of advice is to remember Tim Clemente’s words from 10 years ago when operating in the digital realm — “.” Act as if it that is true, and if you really need to communicate something in a private way, do it in person without any digital devices nearby.
Remember, if we do not fight for our privacy, we will lose it. If we lose our privacy, we will lose our liberty. Only by preserving our privacy can we remain free to organize, to think, to plan, and to live in harmony with friends and family.
Source: The Last American Vagabond
Derrick Broze, a staff writer for The Last American Vagabond, is a journalist, author, public speaker, and activist. He is the co-host of Free Thinker Radio on 90.1 Houston, as well as the founder of The Conscious Resistance Network & The Houston Free Thinkers.
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