The Internet is our lifeline to family and friends when traveling but many of the services we use track us at best; at worst: provide email metadata and video calls to intelligence agencies like the National Security Agency (NSA). And it’s not just the United States participating in mass, warrant-less surveillance, many governments have been working together to undermine your privacy.
Start At The Source
If you understand your digital rights as a traveling in the free world, you know that your laptop and other gadgets are considered imports, making them subject to searches. Your passwords won’t do much good either, since in many countries not giving them up can land you in jail. To work around that legality, set up Truecrypt hidden folders to protect your laptop from customs agents.
- Use Hard Drive Encryption – Encrypting your entire hard drive with BitLocker (bundled with certain versions of Windows Vista, 7, and 8) or Mac OS X’s built-in FileVault will keep your data safe if your laptop is stolen.
For Your Inbox Only
A standard email is the digital equivalent of a postcard, anyone along the transmission path can read its contents. The free Chrome extension SecureGmail or Firefox’s Encrypted Communication plugin will password-encrypt messages sent from a Gmail account. For other email providers, Mailvelope is a solid solution but requires more setup.
- Search Securely – Google shares a lot of data with the NSA, alterantive DuckDuckGo doesn’t at all.
- Social Media – Gizmodo has a good guide on locking down your Facebook privacy and Lifehacker shows you how to opt-out of Twitter tracking.
Depending on where you are in the world, you may also want to consider covering your browsing tracks. The previously mentioned Tor keeps you anonymous online and HTTPS Everywhere will protects website connections when possible.
Video Conferencing, Chats, And Texts
Although Skype is a good way to send large files and encrypts your chats, Microsoft can and has decrypted your messages and video calls for the NSA. (Keep that in mind next time you make a call.) If you’re worried about your chat privacy, a client like Pidgin (with the Off The Record plugin installed) or Cryptocat can be secure alternatives. (But only if the other person is using an OTR-enabled client.)
Text encryption is a bit more fluid, the $.99 iOS app Text Fortress or free Android app TextSecure makes the process nearly seamless. Along that same vein, Hushed lets you create disposable phone numbers in over 40 countries if you want don’t want give out your real digits.
Proxy Around Censorship
I’ve talked about proxies many times before and two that work well to protect your privacy are Hotspot Shield and TunnelBear. Those tools obfuscate your web browsing from eavesdroppers and reroute you around Internet censorship.
- Surfing At Internet Cafes – Hide My Ass is an effective browser-based proxy service.
- Share Files Safely – When sharing files using a service like Dropbox (a company that also shares with the NSA), use Truecrypt to encrypt your uploads or consider a service like Spider Oak.
For now, it might not be prudent to encrypt every email or chat you have online. Yet when traveling and crossing into various jurisdictions, implementing some basic precautions can help keep your privacy under your own protection.