They say they don’t target US citizens. They do target communications between the US and other countries. So, if you’re a US expat living abroad, or if you’re an expat in the US, you’re a target.
And it’s not just you. Apparently once they drag you into their net, they go after all the people you’re in touch with and all the people they’re in touch with.
That can turn into a pretty big group of people awfully fast!
If this bothers you, there are a few things you can do to minimize your chances of drawing their attention. (Short of hiding in a cave for the rest of your life, I don’t know of any way to completely protect your privacy.)
If you’re using a cloud-based email provider like Gmail, Yahoo, MSN, or Hotmail, you have zero privacy. If you like the convenience of email in the cloud, switch to a service like Hushmail.
They’re not located in the US, and they encrypt everything.
Using Hushmail won’t protect you 100%, but it will prevent a lot of the mass data mining.
Protect your Web Browsing with a Virtual Private Network
I’ve written about VPNs several times before. I believe every expat should use one.
The first thing a VPN does is protect you and your data from snoopers in public WiFi areas.
A VPN creates a virtual tunnel between your computer, laptop or smartphone and the company’s server. They route your browsing through their system.
So if I’m in Panama and I choose a US server, anyone who’s watching just sees a US internet address. If I choose a server in the UK, or Singapore, or the Netherlands, it looks like I’m in that country.
Am I engaged in some nefarious activity I’m trying to hide?
I don’t view porn, I don’t gamble online, I don’t do anything I’m remotely ashamed of, let alone anything illegal. I just don’t like the idea that some government somewhere — anywhere — can monitor what I’m doing. Just like I don’t think it’s the government’s business what books I buy or borrow fromt the library.
The VPN I recommend does one more thing that many others don’t — they don’t keep session logs.
Once you log off the system, your browsing history for that session is deleted. Gone. As if it never existed. Even if someone serves them with a subpoena, they can’t produce what doesn’t exist.
I use VPN4all. They offered me a free trial subscription so I could write about their service, and I’ve been impressed. Impressed enough, in fact, that I immediately signed on as an affiliate.
VPN Made Simple
“VPN Made Simple” is their website tagline, and I’ve found that to be true.
I noticed two differences between VPN4all and other services:
- Choosing the IP server to connect to is as simple as checking a dropdown box
- It allows you to connect to P2P networks. Most don’t. (If you’re a P2P user, you know what I’m talking about.) The dropdown shows which servers permit P2P and which don’t, so if you need that feature, you just choose one of the many servers that allows it.
Other features I liked:
- You can connect, disconnect or change your VPN server on the fly, and connecting is fast
- It’s completely unobtrusive
- You can connect to a server in any part of the world you choose. Want to check your US bank account? Select a US server. Want to watch a live event during the 2012 Olympic Games? Choose a server in the UK. You get the idea.
- It doesn’t interfere with email. Some prevent you from sending email through Outlook or other mail clients that live on your own computer
- You don’t need to remember a username or password to log in