Invasive surveillance technology forces a clear choice upon every netizen: learn encryption or surrender your right to privacy. Munzir Ahmad reports.

Big Brother is watching you. And you know that. Every time you log into the Internet, the tech-eyes of the surveillance State follow every click and every keystroke, even every movement of your eyeballs. But you, as the citizen of a free country, believe that no one has the right to watch what you are doing as long as you do not encroach upon the rights of other citizens and curtail their freedom. So, what do you do? How do you keep your life safe from the prying eyes of the surveillance machine?

That’s where encryption comes in as a basic tool of survival with dignity in cyberspace. To evade Big Brother’s all-seeing” eye, you can use encrypted servers for cyber communication. And don’t think you need not bother as you are not doing anything illegal. For didn’t NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden reveal how only 1.5 percent of the data collected by the surveillance machine is related to security concerns?

Anja Kovacs, who directs the Internet Democracy Project in Delhi, tells TEHELKA, There is little evidence that the surveillance systems on which the CMS is based enable a more effective response to terrorism.” In fact, in an overwhelming majority of terror cases, the mainstay of investigation and prosecution continues to be intelligence gathered through traditional methods, while online mass surveillance plays only a supportive role.

So, how do the experts encrypt their communication so that it leaves no digital footprint?

First, they install a Linux-based premium secure operating system such as Jon-Donym on their computer. JonDonym can hide your IP address and offers high-speed anonymous proxy servers and anonymous surfing. Such operating systems protect your communication against traffic analysis — a common surveillance method used by snoops prying into public networks. Knowing the source and destination of Internet traffic, the snoops can easily track anyone’s Internet behaviour.

Secondly, the experts use specific browsers that do not leave any trace on the computer’s hard disk. The surveillance system proves to be largely useless in such cases and intelligence agencies have to rely on hackers to overcome this hurdle.

Communicate Via Encrypted Email

Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) is an Internet standard used for data encryption and digital signature and can be used to send encrypted emails. Only the receiver who has the key to the code used for encryption can decipher the message. This ensures that surveillance agencies cannot snoop on the email while it is in transit.

Another method is to carry a live operating system” in a pen drive or a DVD and use it to work on someone else’s computer without leaving a trace.

These tools are easily accessible and can be used by anyone who refuses to submit to constant surveillance on the Internet.

It seems social media giants such as Facebook care more for people’s privacy than the Indian government does. Facebook launched the PGP encryption system to send encrypted mails so that people can stay out of the ambit of mass cyber surveillance. Now people can use the Facebook gateway to encrypt every email. Facebook assured its users that not even the NSA can decrypt the platform.

Recently, the FBI’s anti-terror wing warned Internet giants against using encryption systems as it makes it difficult for the snoops to intercept communication data. But can that be sufficient reason for netizens to give up on the right to encrypt communications for protecting their privacy? Does it make sense to even make such an argument in a democracy?

Encryption is a fundamental right,” asserts David Kaye, United Nations rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, in his report on international legal protection for encryption and anonymity to the UN Human Rights Council.

Internet freedom activists urge more and more people to start using encrypted communication. This would not only protect them from unwanted monitoring but will also help refine the technology of encryption. After all, cyber freedom is in a constant state of war against the technologies of cyber-snooping.

Originally published in Tehelka.