Tools for Dealing with the Surveillance State

November 3, 2013

In the previous installation of this blog, I described a sort of personal project of mine: to carefully re-evaluate my IT consuming habits in the light of the recent NSA leaks, and to try and take reasonable steps towards improving my privacy.

The first part of this project consisted of essentially breaking up with Google: I migrated my email to Mykolab, and I’ve since cancelled my Google Apps account.

However, I’m not completely off Google yet: I still hold on to a legacy Gmail account, though I don’t really use it for anything, and Google is still my preferred search engine.

The difference is – and I really hope this matters – that I’m no longer signed on to a Google account unless I actually have to be. And when I do sign on, I make sure to use Firefox’s privacy mode and make the session as transient as possible.

Anyway, while I’ve been busy putting my project into action, the bad news have kept piling on.

In case you haven’t been paying a lot of attention to these revelations and you are only vaguely familiar with what’s going on, this 20 minute TEDx talk by Mikko Hyppönen (the Chief Research Officer of F-Secure) should bring you right up to speed:

(It’s a good recap even if you have been paying attention. I really recommend you watch it. Or if you prefer written word, read Mikko’s blog post: “You should not be worried about PRISM. You should be outraged”.)

At the very end of the video Mr. Hyppönen presents the only conceivable solution to the problem (of the US hegemony): open source.

While I’ve always felt certain appreciation towards it, I think that for the very first time in my life I’m now starting to actually value open source software. I’ll get in to the semantics in a moment.

Coinciding with all this, a few weeks ago I, once again, started toying with the idea of switching from OS X to Linux. (This happened in no small part thanks to my colleagues @swog and @mpmlopes.)

My previous forays into Linux (on the desktop) haven’t typically lasted more than a couple of months at a time. Once the initial excitement has worn out I’ve started to yearn the consistency of the OS X user experience, and ultimately given in.

This time around I think things will be different because I’m on a mission. Because I can see the value I put on open source as part of my identity now. Because values that don’t cost anything are merely opinions.

And because my opinions (or appreciation) has now matured into values, I’m now consciously willing to inconvene myself. Or at least willing to accept any risk of inconvenience.

To put this thing in to motion a week ago I installed Arch Linux on my MacBook Pro. I’ll try and write a separate post to detail my choice of distribution and highlight few pain points I came across along the way.

I also realised that I couldn’t really carry on using my iPhone, so I also dropped in an order for a Nexus 5.

“A Nexus 5?”, you ask. “Isn’t that a damned Google product? Spawn of the devil itself?”

Well, yes. And no. It’s a Google product only if you opt to use a Google flavour of the Android operating system. I have other plans.

But I’ll get into those in greater detail a bit later as well.

- Niko

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