By now I’m sure you have heard the recent reports of the NSA collecting Verizon phone records (an operation codenamed BLARNEY) .Today’s news that a separate operation (called PRISM) gives the NSA access to e-mails, phone calls, and search information from Google, Apple, Microsoft, and others, has people wondering what they can do to maintain some privacy online.
Both Google and Facebook issued denials, saying they haven’t given the government “direct” access or a “back door” to their servers as the Post and Guardian stories claim.
Either way, it appears the government has accessed your data. According to The Guardian and The Washington Post, the data collected included: “email, video and voice chat, videos, photos, voice-over-IP chats, file transfers, social networking details, and more.”
So what can you do to prevent your surfing habits and data from being viewed?
One thing you can do is use the Tor Browser. The Tor Browser Bundle is a portable, self-extracting package that contains a special version of Mozilla’s Firefox web browser, along with an application for connecting to the Tor network.
Using Tor makes it more difficult to trace your Internet activity, including “visits to Web sites, online posts, instant messages and other communication forms”, back to the user. It’s intended to protect users’ personal privacy, freedom, and ability to conduct confidential business by keeping their internet activities from being monitored.
When you connect to the Tor network, all of your Internet traffic is encrypted and routed through a complex series of anonymous network nodes until it reaches its final destination. Tor is not 100% secure, but then again, no security solution is. Tor has been around since 2002, and has been field-tested in rough situations in Egypt, China, Iran and other oppressive regimes that restrict Internet access.