The purpose of digital policing
Digital policing is the act of censoring content on the internet, as well as monitoring traffic. For companies, this helps to sell more targeted ads. For governments, however, it is used to keep tabs on their citizens, especially if they are suspected of being involved with terrorist groups. Unfortunately, this means that the privacy of everyone is compromised in a ‘guilty by default’ sort of police state. You may think that this is all illegal and the complicated thing is that you’d be right. Most western countries that engage in this sort of behaviour do have laws that ban spying on its own citizens. The loophole, however, is that there isn’t a law preventing them from spying on another country’s citizens, so what happens is a group of countries agree to spy on each other’s citizens and then share their data.
How invasive is it and how is it done?
Through this loophole, practically everything you do is recorded by the group, called the ‘Five Eyes’, including your phone calls, social media posts, location, app usage and internet searches. Furthermore, tech giants such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Apple that are registered in Five Eyes countries, are beholden to court orders to have all logs and decryption keys handed over. Companies are required to have backdoors that let governments track everything despite encryption.
You may be one of the many people who think you are safe. You have nothing to hide so you have nothing to fear, right? You’re a tech savvy person, you have a VPN. VPNs mean completely private browsing, right? WRONG! Much like tech giants, VPN providers in Five Eyes or the more expansive Fourteen Eyes are required to have backdoors and hand over all logs when requested, else their business is shut down. Your internet service provider might not know your traffic, but your VPN provider does. Furthermore, despite claims, most VPN providers log all traffic routed through their servers. VPNs should only be used to get past censorship or if they are outside of the Fourteen Eyes network and can be trusted, such as Proton VPN, a Swiss provider with open-source software.
Safeguarding privacy in the modern age
Unplug from Big Tech
VPNs, ‘incognito mode’ [and equivalent] and deleting your history doesn’t cut it. Google, Facebook and others have the capability of tracking your device usage even when you don’t have the respective app open. Google tracking cookies are on practically every site it indexes and Facebook isn’t a lot better. Even without being logged into a Facebook or Google account, they can create a profile of you that records all your cookies. The best way to prevent this is to first educate yourself by watching videos from experts and informative channels. Following that, you should replace all your Google applications with open-source equivalents. Replace Gmail with Proton Mail; replace Chrome with Firefox (or DuckDuckGo browser for mobile); replace Google search with DuckDuckGo; replace your messaging app with Signal. If you really value privacy then most importantly of all though, you’ll need to replace your operating system.
Tor, Tails and Qubes
The best way to mask your internet traffic is to ditch Big Tech entirely by installing your own wholly-owned operating system. Operating systems like Tails and Qubes are free to install and work by making your computer look like every other computer on the system. Metadata, such as device tags, location, screen resolution and network are masked or removed. The operating system boots from a USB so it can work on practically any device, meaning you only need to bring the USB with you. All of the traffic is directed through Tor, the 100% anonymous browser. Tor encrypts traffic and routes it through three relays, none of which know the full extent of the data. This means that Tor on Tails or Qubes is completely anonymous to third-parties.
Privacy for digital beings
When people upload their brains or use any form of cognitive implant they move their existence into a digital format. If the Five Eyes had the backdoor to everyone’s digital traffic like they do now, people would live in a police state that made Orwell’s 1984 look like a lesson with a substitute teacher. Thoughtcrime would literally become commonplace. If given full access, something paranoid governments would demand, people would have their entire lives recorded and available to be viewed, without any scrap of consent.
Clearly, having the operating system for software being in the sole custody of a single corporation or government would spell disaster. However, in this unique case, open source may not be a good idea either. Firstly, publishing your software makes it easier for hackers to find vulnerabilities. Secondly, unchecked use of the software could potentially be disastrous for society. Instead, what may be the best situation is to have a global organisation, similar in structure to the UN, that operates independent of governments but nonetheless under their collective scrutiny. The organisation would need to be a non-profit entity with no exploitable hierarchy. The software it creates would need to be similar to Qubes or Tails and all traffic should run through Tor by default. There must be no backdoors or shadow operating systems like Intel’s MINIX, which shadows all your device’s access, logs it and then exports it, without you having any access or even knowledge of its existence. If we can guarantee all of that, we just might be able to upload our brains comfortable with the fact that we aren’t being watched and have some shred of privacy.