I think most Americans are finally starting to wake up to the fact that our government is an uncontrollable behemoth when it comes to our privacy. Time after time, we discover proof that yet another invasion has been going on, and rather than rectify the problem in response to public outcry, our government “makes it legal”, rather than eliminating it. Even when they say they’ve stopped doing something, we usually discover, in rather short order, that they have reconstituted a program almost identical to the rejected one rather than really addressing our concerns.
They can take our records from anyone we do business with, and the one they take them from can’t even tell us. They help themselves to the info about who we call/text/email and when. Experts in the matter say that regardless of public statements to the contrary, there is strong evidence to suggest that the NSA has everyone who uses electronic communications under constant surveillance.
History shows us that the people who “protect” us in this way will not stop, regardless of the law. The only thing that will stop them is if our citizens adopt technology that makes it impractical for them to continue. We don’t all need to become super-hacker-nerds, we just all have to make an honest attempt to be secure in our communications.
I’ve recently been experimenting with a tool from a company called Open Whisper Systems. It’s called ‘Signal’, and it’s actually pretty spectacular! It uses end-to-end encryption on all voice calls and text messages you initiate with it (assuming the other party is using it too), it’s secure enough that the government would have to be targeting you personally and break your communications with a dedicated supercomputer to get at your data, it’s free (but you should donate), it’s open source (so it’s been vetted for NSA backdoors by a stack of heavy-hitters), and it’s as easy to use as any standard voice or text app on your smartphone! It also comes in both iOS and Android flavors, so almost all of us can access it. The best part is that the servers that allow you to connect to others use your existing phone number, but store NO information about who or when you called/texted, so not only is all your data secure, but there’s not even a record of you sending or receiving it!
My wife and I have been running Signal for a month, and it really works. Other than the process to download and configure it, which took about ten minutes, using Signal is as easy or easier than using our phones’ default apps (in fact, on Android, you can set it up to simply become your default texting app!). Sending texts is identical to the default app, and calls are actually easier than usual, because you can make them right from inside a text conversation (or vice-versa). The texts are flawless, and the sound quality of the calls is almost always great. Communicating with someone who doesn’t use signal is seamless; The app switches back to the normal methods as needed, with no input from the user, and it even puts a little banner up telling you whether or not the person you are communicating with is using Signal, and giving you the option to send them a text with an invitation and instructions if you want to get them up and running.
I’ve decided to start recommending Signal to all my friends and family. It’s free, it’s easy, and it doesn’t just keep the government out of your business, it keeps crooks (is that redundant?) and marketers out of it, too. Expect your invites, everyone! This won’t make you immune to a hardcore criminal investigation, but it might just save our society!