It’s difficult to turn on the news these days without feeling as though you’re watching the first act of a spy movie. There’s a whistleblowing techie on the run from the government hiding out in a Moscow airport, closed-door meetings between the President and the captains of the tech industry, a top-secret government facility in rural Utah, and an American spymaster taking the first steps to make SkyNet a reality.
The truth is a bit more banal, but nevertheless, the game of cat-and-mouse between data hoarders and privacy advocates is well underway. Last week the secure e-mail service TorMail was shut down and its alleged owner Eric Marques arrested. Edward Snowden’s e-mail service Lavabit was shut down by its founder Ladar Levison so he could “avoid being complicit in crimes against the American People.” Shortly thereafter Silent Circle Jon Callas shut down Silent Mail because “Email that uses standard Internet protocols cannot have the same security guarantees that real-time communications has.”
Callas confirms, however, that Silent Text, Silent Phone, and Silent Eyes still exist and will continue to provide secure peer-to-peer communication. And in fact, an entire cottage industry is undergoing rapid growth as the news of government e-mail surveillance continues to make headlines. If you believe that “cell phones are tracking devices that make phone calls,” you could buy yourself a “phonekerchief” that prevents it from sending or receiving signals of any kind. There are baseball caps to hide your face from cameras, crowd-sourced maps of surveillance camera placement, RFID-blocking wallets, and in case none of that works and they finally decide to come for you, there’s an app called iDoorCam that works with a wirelessly connected doorbell and lets you see who’s knocking.
If you spend too much time reading headlines, then no one would be surprised if you get a little paranoid. Of course, the balance between privacy and security is indeed a delicate one, one that this country has been doing its best to walk that tightrope for over two centuries. But sometimes the healthiest option is simply to relax.