Digital Currencies and Privacy Protection

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By now, you’ve probably heard about Edward Snowden, the 29 year old National Security Agency contractor who defected to Hong Kong after leaking explosive revelations about the extent of the agency’s spying program.

In an exclusive interview with the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald, Snowden explains that NSA analysts have the technological ability and blanket legal authority to snoop on anybody. “Any analyst at any time can target anyone. Any selector, anywhere… I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge, to even the President.” 
 
The story sent shock waves through diplomatic circles and the corporate media.  But it’s just the latest story in long wave of recent scandals, including the Associated Press phone records subpoena, the IRS- tea party investigation, the Rupert Murdoch phone hacking and Occupy Wall Street undercover police informant and provocateur revelations.  
 
Snowden further explained the far-reach of NSA capabilities to intercept every mode of our private lives, by saying “with this capability, the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested without targeting. If I wanted to see your e-mails or your wife’s phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your e-mails, passwords, phone records, credit cards.”
 
His bold confession is not to be understood in a vacuum.  There are countless videos of low level US government personnel poking gloved fingers around travelers’ genital areas, causing permanent distress and embarrassment.  Racial, religious profiling and clever contrary profiling of white infants and grandmothers  is now encountered at train stations, bus stations and highway checkpoints as well.  For more than two centuries, this heavy, iron fist did not figure anywhere in the American republic.

Now, police departments across the country issue “administrative subpoenas,” i.e. without a search warrant signed by a judge, to routinely seize troves of customer details from mobile carriers, enabling them to track the whereabouts of millions of subscribers.

High tech surveillance drones are being acquired to spy on Americans while the constitutional scholar and Nobel Peace Prize President uses predator drones to kill thousands abroad, including women and children and American citizens, without bothering to bring any criminal charges in court, let alone convict them of any crime.

Often, the targets’ names are unknown. The killing is based on appearances called signatures: purported intercepted speech, including emails and people the targets are associated with.  Its a remote, high tech way to profile targets and it is in this context that Snowden’s revelations should be digested.

The assertion that only bad guys need to worry about PRISM is very naive.  Something as innocent as dialing a wrong number could bring you unwarranted scrutiny.  Someone with an ax to grind could drop a dime on you and wreck your life.  
 
The intelligence services and the military take a prophylactic approach.  This means they increasingly believe that with programs like PRISM, they can identify
likely criminals and terrorists before a crime or terrorist act has occurred.  
 
For all its acronyms and technical jargon, the PRISM spy program rests on a simple premise: Secretly record all information about everybody, everywhere at all times, then archive it forever.  Since any human being has the potential to become a criminal or terrorist suspect in the future, a dossier on that person will be readily available, including who that person has associated with in the past

The dossier focuses on four areas: financial transactions, phone records, Internet records and travel logs.  This diary of bytes makes it possible to ruin anybody under any pretext at will.  It creates undreamed of leverage of the state to terrorize the individual and groups of individuals. All manor of abuse is justified under the ‘War on Terror.’
 
An exhaustive review is beyond the scope of this article, but a few simple but clever changes of habit can go a long way towards protecting yourself from warrantless, illegal, unconstitutional and invasive collection of your genuine private information.  To begin, I will focus on the encrypted payments and communication system called Swiftcoin.  From a recent press release:
 
“Users running the Swiftcoin application present a challenge to eavesdroppers. This free application requires no identification or payment to download. Once installed, it enables users to opt out of the common email servers operated by large corporations that are obliged, under gag orders, to provide back door access to invasive, over reaching public and private interests.

Swiftcoin, like numbered Swiss bank accounts, does not identify users by their names. Unlike bank accounts, the user number changes every time he/she presses the send button. The Swiftcoin application may be moved off the user’s computer into a pen drive and opened up again on another computer at will. Swiftcoin users can not be traced by name, by IP address or by device. “
 
This is called deep encryption because the literally encrypted communication, including its “meta data,” is not identifiable unless the user chooses to make her wallet id public.  Every sent message departs from a new “location” or the same location as the user wishes.  The same is true for the recipient.  Every message or payment is unique and may employ disposable meta data.   In addition, the user device itself can be substituted at will.  Furthermore, a Swiftcoin wallet can be moved to a pen drive and uploaded to a different device.  All of this makes it substantially more difficult to spy on and record a user’s activity, because the correlation between a Swiftcoin id and a particular person is tenuous.  Swiftcoin does not rely entirely on encryption which, at the end of the day, can be cracked by cryptographers.  The very way that Swiftcoin is designed to be used does not lend itself to tracking any individual over time.

 
Alas, the Swiftcoin homepage states that it is not available to U.S. citizens.  However, the Swiftcoin telegram remains freely available to all regardless of nationality.  Every new user may receive ten free Swiftcoins, ( good for 10 000 telegrams; every Swiftcoin ” telegram ” costs 0.001 Swiftcoin ) which is returned to sender upon a return mail from recipient, for a net cost of zero to send and receive a telegram.  No money or purchase of Swiftcoin is required to download the program and use the telegram feature.

Written by Daniel Bruno for Media Roots

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