by L. Savage
If you don’t control your technology, your technology will control you. This is a simple maxim that is becoming more and more important as we witness States using technology to exert ever-increasing levels of control over their subjects. This takes the form of DRT Boxes or Stingrays being used to strip data from cell phones and intercept communications in the United States. In India and other places this takes the form of mass communications blackouts and denial of access to information.
We saw just how devastating denial of access can be with the Indian Government’s digital blockade of Kashmir. India is the only country that calls itself a democracy yet routinely shuts off internet access to tens of millions of people. To this day there is still minimal internet access in Kashmir.
Too frequently, we feel powerless to counteract these attacks on our ability to freely and safely communicate and access information. We’ve quietly ceded control of our data to massive corporations such as Facebook, Google, and Apple for years in exchange for convenience.
You have the power to take back control from those who seek to use your digital footprint against you. After reading that sentence, many people will immediately pledge to delete all of their social media and burn their smartphones. I’m here to tell you that it isn’t necessary!
Social media is a fantastic tool for both organizers and oppressive governments. Organizers can quickly and broadly share information about events; in turn, governments can then use this information to organize against those events more effectively.
If you don’t take steps to secure what information is publicly visible on your social media profiles, it is all too easy for a government actor or even a hostile reactionary to find out an alarming amount of information about you.
There have been exercises where within 15 minutes researchers were able to extrapolate where someone lived, worked, and hung out purely based on Instagram photos and account followers.
It is crucial that you take every precaution to lock and make as private as possible all of your social media. When recording videos or taking photos that will be publicly shared, think of how it could be used to harm you.
This is a dark way to think, but it’s necessary. You wouldn’t tell a random stranger on the street where you lived so why would you post a picture of your house on a public Instagram feed?
Similarly, you wouldn’t send sensitive letters you knew were going to be opened and read so why would you send an unencrypted text message?
These are a small fraction of the ways that your data is vulnerable. You should approach data security in much the same way as you would physical security. Remember to rotate your passwords, never keeping the same password for more than three months. It is also recommended to use a password manager such as Bitwarden. It is difficult if not impossible to remember all of your passwords; frequently people end up recycling the same password or variant of it for every account. This is incredibly dangerous as it exposes all of your information even if only one site is compromised.
While passwords help keep our online presence secure, how do we keep our phones and other physical devices secure? Similar to our online presences we want to ensure that we are using strong pass codes and fully encrypting the device. In addition, it is wise to look into alternative operating systems like CalyxOS that prioritize your security and privacy while still allowing you all of the modern smartphone amenities.
If you are going to be speaking about sensitive topics or know you’ll be attending an event where there is the possibility of you losing access to your device it is wise to use a cheap throwaway phone and not bring your main device. I recommend the Xiaomi a2. It can be purchased for under $200 and is compatible with CalyxOS.
For those that use computers, I recommend using Tails if you need to practice the highest standard of security. It can be loaded onto a flash drive and booted on any computer with a USB port. When you unplug it from the computer, all of the data from your session is erased.
In conclusion, we organize to make the world a better place. It is our responsibility to ensure that our digital footprint doesn’t compromise our work.