9/11 drastically changed the way our nation handles the security of its citizens. As technology evolved into new thresholds of speed and performance, it became easier than ever to spy in real-time on all users of our voice and data communications infrastructure. Laws such as the Patriot Act enabled these quite frankly unconstitutional agendas, and they've been the status quo for just over a decade.
As an IT professional with 25 years of experience, some of which was in a TS/SCI environment administering HQ USAFE's intelligence message handling system, I know what the U.S. government is capable of when it comes to international and domestic espionage. I have not been pleased by the direction our government has taken since I left the military. I was lucky enough to have a front row seat for the fall of the Berlin Wall in November of 1989. Never did I believe in my wildest nightmares that the thing would follow me home! It's terribly unfortunate, but today the responsibility for protecting privacy and civil liberties online has landed squarely on each individual citizen's shoulders, and not everyone is in a position to accomplish or even comprehend how to best get that done.
For the average citizen, it's difficult to stay informed. Even a technically savvy person can have trouble keeping up with the constantly changing laws and shifting perceptions surrounding this issue. Fortunately there are two very valuable organizations that provide both timely information and assistance that is accessible to the layman.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) frequently works in cooperation with the ACLU to ensure that citizens do not have their rights or liberties eroded. Their "Surveillance Self Defense" page is extremely helpful and written in a straightforward manner. Their coverage of news relating to cyber law, technology and privacy is accurate and up to the minute.
The lesser-known Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) is a well-organized resource for both the layman seeking to learn, and advanced techies concerned with securing larger infrastructure for their end users. The richness and depth of EPIC's page makes it a must-have in any real geek's bookmarks.
Finally, no article on this subject would be complete without mentioning IT security expert Bruce Schneier. His balanced, sane perspectives on the issue of security versus privacy should be heard more than they are. Schneier coined the term "security theater" to represent procedures that violate individual privacy but don't actually solve security issues. The most frequent target for this pejorative is the TSA, whose "Simon Says Do This" dance in airports everywhere is rife with examples. Schneier also originated the phrase, "Refuse to be terrorized." He is the author of several books on the subject of privacy versus security: "Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly about Security in an Uncertain World", "Secrets & Lies: Digital Security in a Networked World", and "The Electronic Privacy Papers: Documents on the Battle for Privacy in the Age of Surveillance".
Schneier's latest work is "Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust that Society Needs to Thrive". In this book he examines the issue of societal trust versus individuals who take advantage of and abuse that trust. The book, having come out in February of this year, is obviously rooted in a need to examine the current situation with Bradley Manning, Julian Assange/Wikileaks, and the actions and shenanigans of the hacktivist group Anonymous.
While it's generally true that those who break society's rules are doing so for reasons that are not likely to benefit that society, too much trust is also bad in that societies turn into a stagnant, totalitarian nightmare. While Schneier was developing the book, he asked for comments on his blog. There was much discussion on what to call the so-called "social deviants" who actually serve as beneficial influences. He eventually settled on the term "outliers."
My comments on Schneier's blog mostly revolved around the "Hunter in a Farmer's World" theory in which founder Thom Hartmann posits that ADHD is not a disorder but an evolutionary mutation that facilitates the necessary historical roles of hunter, explorer, inventor and warrior. As we have moved toward a heavily sedentary and agragarian society, these "outlier" roles are not as needed or well understood as they once were - but without them, society will absolutely perish.
My primary example for the necessity of the "outlier role" in society was Winston Churchill. Constantly in trouble in his youth and early adulthood, Churchill stepped unforgettably and with ferocious competence into the role of warrior as Hitler came to power. Had Churchill not been born into the time and place he was, the free world as we know it may very well have fallen to the Third Reich. The very same aspects of Churchill's personality that made him an "outlier" in the Military Academy ironically made him an indomitable foe on the actual battlefield. Who here does not remember those famous, ringing words:
"Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender!"
The two edged sword that is Internet Privacy needs to be well understood by every citizen for this reason: when society fails to protect us, we have a duty and responsibility to protect ourselves and those who depend on us. I hope this article has been of some assistance to people who want to learn more about how to protect themselves online.