How to Keep Your Conversations Private from the NSA – UPDATED 27 Dec 2013

by Kit Lange on June 8, 2013

Scroll to the bottom for more updates. If you know of another list or software, please let us know either in the comments or by email, and we’ll update. Thanks to all who care enough about privacy and freedom to keep contributing to this list…and a special thank you to the developers and Open Source gurus who keep making it possible for us to keep our freedoms on the internet.

We get it, Joe Citizen. You want your privacy. You want to be able to talk on the internet without everyone and their mother at the InsertAlphabetAgencyHere looking at it. You’re mad about the NSA snooping. You aren’t advocating a violent overthrow of the government. You’re not running a domestic terrorism group (well, there are those new DHS criteria…). You’re not even sending around emails about what a dismal failure President Obama’s administration is (THIS hour, anyway). You just want to be able to chat with friends, conduct your financial business, and argue with your spouse without Big Daddy Gummint all up in your biz. Believe it or not, that’s your right. Harry “Who Cares” Reid may blow it off and say the government’s been “doing that stuff for years,” but we’ve got a news flash for Harry: just because you’ve been doing it a while doesn’t make it any more okay. Ask Ted Bundy…oh, wait.

Victory Girls gets it—partly because we value our privacy too. So, because we are all about free speech here—and private speech, too, now that I think about it—here’s a list of ways you can circumvent the government privacy leeches. Granted, this list isn’t all-inclusive, and let’s face it, I’m not an uber-geek. I do, however, read a lot of uber-geek stuff, and so I’m pretty confident with the list I’m about to show you. Keep in mind that you will need to change some of your habits if you decide you really want to keep your personal stuff private. Most people are too lazy…but if you’re not, here’s the list from the guys over at Wired, as well as a few other nooks and crannies I find things in:

- For internet browsing, use Tor. It comes with a full bundle that you can use on any kind of Windows from XP to 8, Mac, or Linux if that’s your flavor. I won’t bore my political readers with the long explanation of why Tor keeps your internet browsing private, but if you want to read all about it you can check out the Wikipedia entry, or just go to the website.

- For email, use Hushmail. It’s free, it’s secure, and if you’re done using that email, no worries. You can either delete it, or stop signing into it. It’ll be gone in 2 weeks, along with all those fan emails you sent to Justin Bieber. See? You do want privacy.

—Update: A reader voiced some concerns about Hushmail and offered the following alternatives for email:

http://www.keptprivate.com/
http://securenym.net/
https://countermail.com/
http://www.safe-mail.net/

If you’re already using the Tor Browser Bundle, check out TorBox or MailTor.  (See Nekro’s Pastebin for the Tor hidden addresses to that and other services.)

Another reader offers:
https://burnnote.com/ - allows you to send emails that self destruct in a set timeframe and don’t allow screenshots.

- For phone service, use Silent Circle. Their Silent Suite has 3G, 4G, and WiFi encrypted mobile video & voice, plus email, plus browsing, plus texts. It’s $49/month but worth it if you’re willing to pay it.

- Seecrypt also offers encrypted voice service and texting. World Net Daily explains how it works.

- If you really don’t want to use a paid service, you could always buy a burner phone (or ten).

- If you’re using instant messenger services, by the way, your stuff is wide open. Use OTR (off the record) messaging, found here. Use Wickr. (One important note: Gmail’s “off the record” setting does NOT mean it’s not being logged…it’s just not retrievable by the user. The data miners can find it just fine.)

Obviously, we aren’t saying it’s okay to hide any illegal and/or nefarious activities. If you’re using this article for that, then I hope you do get busted. That being said, the average citizen simply wants to be able to have a conversation without worrying about how many other people have seen it, and whether that conversation is being used against them somehow. We have the right to free and unfettered speech. We have the right to privacy, and quite frankly, it’s a load of BS that a blog like Victory Girls even has to post a list of ways that law-abiding, regular citizens can keep their overreaching government’s nasty little hands off our private communications, yet here we are.

If you’re just a regular person who wants some freakin’ privacy, check out the links above, and hopefully you find a solution that works for you. Feel free to suggest other tools in the comments; after I’ve checked them out to make sure you’re not trying to send my readers to an Asian porn site for circus midgets, I’ll be glad to post them with credit to you.

UPDATE: More sources for privacy are rolling in:

TrueCrypt: Free disk encryption, or file/folder encryption.  HIGHLY recommend.

PrivateInternetAccess: VPN access for secure internet.

Replicant: For Android devices.

Buddycloud, Diaspora, Friendica or Movim: Instead of Facebook.

Change your OS to OpenBSD Linux.

MediaGoblin: Instead of YouTube.

Vanilla Visa or Simon card instead of Paypal or credit cards.

Red Phone, Jitsi, Ostel, GNU Telephony, Empathy or Ekiga: Instead of Skype, which now has Microsoft eavesdropping.

For even more options, check out this article at Greycoder.com that will let you ask the question “What Type of Privacy Are You Interested In?”

Safe Shepherd helps remove all of your data from sites like Zabasearch and Zillow.

 

Welcome, Instapundit, Pirate’s Cove, Econlib, Argghhh!, and Legal Insurrection readers!!

 

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

BADKarma June 9, 2013 at 12:59 am

…But suppose I WANT to be redirected to an Asian porn site for circus midgets?!?!?! O_O

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Kit June 9, 2013 at 1:46 am

Then you have issues I can’t help you with. ;)

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DoctorOfLove June 9, 2013 at 8:29 am

Don’t use hushmail if you care about privacy. They have been cooperating with authorities for some time

Try one of these:
http://www.keptprivate.com/
http://securenym.net/
https://countermail.com/
http://www.safe-mail.net/

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Kit June 9, 2013 at 9:43 am

Thanks for those additions!! I’ll check them out and get them added to the post later today.

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Wayne Fiebick June 9, 2013 at 8:38 am

Pls fix the TOR link, you’re missing the period between www & tor.

How’s the Instalanche going?

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Kit June 9, 2013 at 9:43 am

Thanks for catching that!! I’ll fix it ASAP. :)

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tek June 9, 2013 at 8:42 am

You’ve missed some significant tech news stories if you think Tor and Hushmail can be depended upon.

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Kit June 9, 2013 at 9:42 am

Hushmail states that they will cooperate if there is a valid warrant, but not before. That is something, much better than Gmail’s let it all hang out policy.

As for Tor, I tested it last night somewhat, and did read a bunch on it. I’m aware that there are a few concerns about it but also saw they’d been answered. As I said in the post, I’m not an über geek and certainly will defer to those with more information as to better options, but at this point I think almost anything is better than the status quo.

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Kevin June 9, 2013 at 9:50 am

“How to Keep Your Conversations Private from the NSA”

Why do you want to keep things from your friends at the NSA? You must be hiding something. Dear visitors to this article, your information has been stored and someone from the government will be contacting you soon. Or just watching you and not telling you about it. Or maybe you will be audited. We haven’t decided yet.

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Kate June 9, 2013 at 9:52 am

Snort.

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Brian June 9, 2013 at 10:11 am

A personal thank you. This is the most practically useful thing I’ve read on the Internet for at least a couple months.

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Holden June 9, 2013 at 10:14 am

Dont’ forget Jitsi; it will do OTR and also the ZRTP protocol (used by Silent Circle) which will turn Google Talk and Google Voice into encrypted sessions. Cells phone are trickier and you would need to route those another (way outside the scope of this comment.) For mail and chat with an inside group there is also CryptoHeaven. For truly anonymous messaging there is Freenet which requires more technical skill than some of the others. Besides Tor there are Virtual Private Network (VPN) providers like Cryptocloud who don’t log.

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Manolo June 9, 2013 at 10:28 am

I certainly understand the desire to provide readers with counterespionage advice to preclude our government’s prying eyes and ears, but to assert that there are government-safe electronic communication means or methods is sheer folly. NSA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, CIA, Justice and Homeland Security don’t “kick down” or use hammers to gain access to the data streams. They get the keys to the kingdom by either court order. Court orders are really formalities: the government typically has access all along. How, you ask? There isn’t a single computer science and engineering research or development project in this country that didn’t receive government grant funding directly or indirectly. The base requirement of a federal grant is that access be built in or the access turned over to the federal government for the project, and for any project that the CS&E project touches. Google exists because of a National Science Foundation grant, and the commercial Connie’s and labs all get these grants, too. If you want communications security, then you’ll need to resort to 19th Century techniques that encumber the monitoring party with a logistical dilemma, such as transportation, human capital and equipment.

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Suicidal Idiot June 12, 2013 at 12:06 am

Dear Manolo,

As a computer geek with multiple decades of professional experience I can professionally sum up your post in one word:

Bullseye.

If you want privacy, handwritten letters are your best bet. All email, all texting, all PC communications, all website viewing are all attached to your name. Even buying a new PC and only using it from rotating free sites AND SPOOFING YOUR MAC ADDRESS DIFFERENTLY EVERY TIME is still going to leave a geographical record of the wifi spots you’ve used/leached from. If you don’t know what “Spoofing your MAC address means”, then you’re utterly screwed. That geographical record is being matched up to your cellphone location records and your license plate scans as you drive down the road. (License plate scanners have been around for over a decade).

Doing this will cause you to stick out like a sore thumb, and bring total attention to your profile.

But be of good cheer! If you’re doing something mundane like murder or blowing people up, they won’t catch you, as we just learned in Boston.

If you have any conservative contacts, however, call your accountants and regularly wipe your hard drives. You will be audited as soon as they can get to you. Unless, of course, you happen to need medical attention, which is becoming dispensed by the ‘rogue agents’ of the IRS.

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Edd June 9, 2013 at 10:56 am

Also check out http://www.startpage.com It uses google for searches, but strips off your IP address and claims to be the “world’s most private search engine”.

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searcher June 9, 2013 at 7:20 pm

don’t use google (or bing) for your searches, they keep history. use duckduckgo.com is you want to search without history being recorded someplace.

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galt June 9, 2013 at 11:46 am

you forgot the most obvious privacy strategy: don’t put anything out on compromised networks you can’t live with being intercepted, ie “who cares if the NSA knows what’s on my shopping list”. Use secure channels to protect private information, but use nonsecure networks a lot, with essentially trivial information: in fact, typically privacy advocates use nonsecure networks MORE than the average user, to chaff

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Kate June 9, 2013 at 1:21 pm

Actually if you have a bank account, use credit cards or even own a supermarket loyalty brand card, you’re in. If that person doesn’t care, ok.

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George B June 9, 2013 at 5:15 pm

Seems to me that using a atypical somewhat secure communications service would make your information more interesting to the NSA. Instead, I’d probably bury a little bit of sensitive/secure communication in a large quantity of inane crap sent in the clear. Bury politically incorrect end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it preparation communication in cat videos, for example. Broadband makes it easy for everyone to send huge quantities of useless information.

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Suicidal Idiot June 12, 2013 at 12:10 am

George,

What you’ve just postulated has actually been around for a while. It’s called ‘steganography’. Well done.

You don’t hide a needle in a haystack. You hide it in a needlestack.

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Ron & Sherrill Albrecht June 9, 2013 at 3:01 pm

Those were the GRAND Old Days…and that was a REAL War where we truly backed our guys and gals! and THEY & WE LOVED AMERICA!!

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Peterh June 9, 2013 at 4:09 pm

“…emails that self destruct in a set timeframe and don’t allow screenshots.”
If it works on a free software operating system, there are means for you to circumvent any efforts to prevent a screenshot. Public key encryption (such as GPG) to prevent a 3rd party from reading the contents of your communication works better.

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ALman June 9, 2013 at 5:15 pm

I’ve mixed thoughts about this. I’m at a point in my life that if a government agency wants to investigate me I’d probably think it was a complement.

On the other hand, I am concerned about what personal data is collected, who has access to this, and for what reasons. It seems that our technology and science has outpaced not only our ethics and morals, but our ability to reasonably manage our creations.

I think it was Pope John Paul II who was asked about the internet. His reply was something along the lines that it was neither good nor evil. Rather, it was based upon how it was used.

Thank you for your article. I’ll be reviewing the technical information you provided.

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Render June 10, 2013 at 2:42 am

I don’t know what the bulk of the Internet is all up-in-arms about. Isn’t this the culture that claims that information wants to be free? Well, step one to that end is collecting it all in one place and making it available for a modest fee. Where would Assange be if his information weren’t bundled up in an easily smuggle-able collection?

Don’t worry, folks, the fact that you’re a fan of Harry Potter slash fiction will be freely public shortly.

It wants to be.

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Suicidal Idiot June 12, 2013 at 12:21 am

The real problem is that it’s impossible nowadays NOT to break one of the tens of thousands of laws we live under today. Consequently, all they have to do is keep watching till they find evidence against you.

Then they offer you a choice: go to court against a prosecution with an infinite lawyer budget, or do these somewhat illegal things. Then you find out the somewhat illegal things are actually much worse and they have the hooks well and truly set.

Ever wonder why Justice Roberts changed his opinion on Obamacare? Ever wonder why the big name GOP guys have started selling us all out wholesale? Wonder why Rubio is telling us his work on the amnesty bills is to stop illegals (including ads on Limbaugh), while saying in Spanish interviews that it’ll be amnesty for everybody?

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Mark June 12, 2013 at 9:31 am

Hello girls,

Great content, love the pin ups and the crystal clear thinking. Any of you single…I think I am in love? Thanks for fighting the good fight.

Keep the home fires burning,

Mark

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JAZE December 3, 2013 at 10:41 pm

DO NOT USE SAFE-MAIL.NET THEY ARE SO EASY TO HACK THEY ALSO KEEP LOGS AND SEND YOUR IP WITH HEADERS !.. THEY ARE ANYTHING BUT SAFE !! CO WITH BIG BROTHER AS WELL….STAY AWAY!!

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