Just Because I'm Paranoid...


...doesn't mean they aren't after me. I saw that on a bumper sticker once, and thought it'd be appropriate to quote here, with a few words on cyberfreedom and privacy. Sending regular e-mail over the Internet is about as private as writing a letter to your Mom in New York, then copying it onto a postcard, going out into the street, and handing it to the driver of the first eastbound car you see, with a request that he pass it on to someone else headed in that general direction before he stops. Fortunately, e-mail is much faster and usually (slightly) more reliable than that, but the analogy is accurate. An e-mail passes through any number of computers on it's way to Mom, and can very easily be read, copied, or altered by anyone with access to any of them.

There's a way to stop this, of course. Encrypt your message - scramble it into a code that only makes sense to you and Mom. All those guys in the middle will still be able to see the message, but not to understand it. But if you're a US citizen, your government doesn't think this is a good idea. If everyone started doing it, then *THEY* might not be able to peek at all that mail. A few of those messages might be from Bad Guys(tm) plotting Bad Things(tm), you see, so strong crypto is too dangerous for us to have. Of course, stomping on the rights of citizens by banning or restricting the free use and distribution of strong crypto won't stop The Bad Guys(tm) from using it, any more than the laws that are supposed to keep them from getting their hands on bullets, bombs, and anthrax. You see, they're Bad Guys(tm). It's what they do.

The ability to keep information private isn't and shouldn't be reserved just for politicians, terrorists, drug lords, generals, or the other lowlife bogeymen that the government tries to scare us with. I strongly support the idea that we should *ALL* be routinely encrypting our e-mail and other personal information with an independently developed, supported, and openly tested piece of software like PGP - one *WITHOUT* government-mandated back doors or restrictions on anything stronger than a soggy paper bag. How would you feel if Congress demanded that you give your front-door key to a government-approved "third-party" so that law enforcement officials could search your home without your knowledge? Or maybe the Post Office automatically steaming open every envelope before delivering it, but promising to immediately forget and ignore everything they read, so long as you didn't use any dangerous words? A silent extension for every phone line in your house that goes directly to the local FBI (which, again, they promise faithfully not to use)? The US Government, driven by the FBI and other law/security agencies, has in recent years pushed very hard for electronic equivalents to all of the above, and widely used, strong, open-source cryptography is the only defense we have. That's not paranoia, that's a fact.

If you don't know why any of this should matter to you, what Echelon, Carnivore, Clipper, or Pretty Good Privacy are, who Phil Zimmermann is, or what kind of things the US goverment wants to do in order to ensure their ability to routinely and conveniently snoop into your business (whatever it is) continues well into the 21st century, please follow the links below (or read Stephen Levy's Crypto for a quick modern history) and start finding out. Routinely using strong encryption for your normal daily communications isn't any more paranoid than locking your front door or sending your mail in envelopes. Once you're up to speed, you can find *my* PGP public key here. Send me yours.

While you're at it, spend a few minutes on Steve Gibson's great ShieldsUP! page - it has nothing to do with crypto or privacy per se, but has a very clear basic explanation of equally important Internet security issues (yes, hackers can and will target YOUR humble little home or office PC), as well as an easy-to-use (free) test of your system for basic vulnerabilities. For Windows-based PCs, he and I both highly recommend the ZoneAlarm personal firewall.

"The issue is not whether you're paranoid. Look around you, Lenny. The issue
is whether you are paranoid enough. Paranoia is reality seen on a finer scale."
- "Strange Days"

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