Can you cut yourself off from Big Brother?

Following yesterday’s article about Big Brother getting nosier than ever, I found another article that sums up what one man’s trying to do about it.  He’s taking himself offline altogether, trying to erase what he calls his ‘digital footprint’.  The Telegraph reports:

From now until next April, I am trying to live without a digital footprint. I’m using multiple pay as you go phones, which I’m replacing every four weeks. I have several different laptops, which I use for different things. I pay for everything in cash, which I take out every month from the same cash machine. I buy a daily travel card (in cash). There is still, of course, a digital footprint of sorts, but it’s incredibly difficult to link everything together, and I will be scrambling my IP address and using the laptops only in set locations for specific purposes.

. . .

On Wednesday, the draft Investigatory Powers Bill will be published, setting out the range of surveillance powers available to the intelligence agencies and police. It is likely to make interesting reading, as the full extent of the government’s ability to spy on its citizens is made known in a single report.

The argument made by those who support that ability of the Investigatory Powers Bill is that there is nothing to hide and therefore have nothing to be worried about – the powers are there to intercept terrorists and troublemakers, not innocent citizens.

But the truth is, we all have something to hide. It might just be family photos, it might be intimate messages to our beloved, it might be contact information for our families and loved ones. But also included in personal information is your name, phone number, address, place of residence, place of work, people you interact with, duration of interactions, how often, current and past locations, what music you listen to, and with Spotify Run, how fast you’re moving and where.

. . .

We all have a right to privacy, but this is gradually being eroded. Last year in America, Congress decided that the Fourth Amendment, which states the need for a warrant to search for specific things, does not apply to non-US citizens’ personal data. That is 95 per cent of the world’s population. Moreover, thinking “I’ve got nothing to hide” is based on a presumption that we are guilty until proven innocent. It puts us on the defensive. Once the invasion into our privacy becomes visible, people start to behave in a very specific way, not just on mobile phones, but on computers. It erodes the breadth of our searches, what we think, our focus, our actions and the ideas we have. When we are necessarily limiting ourselves in this way, freedom of speech becomes pointless, since freedom of thought has been destroyed.

There’s more at the link.

It’s a valiant effort, but it cuts the author off from so much of our modern economy that I don’t know whether he can succeed.  It’ll be interesting to follow his progress.



  1. "it cuts the author off from so much of our modern economy"

    One supposes that it has much to do with how much the author is willing to do without.

  2. Agree with Rev, and if he travels, he's going to be on video there… Plus rental/owned home (records), banking location, etc… Almost impossible to do in reality.

  3. Well, the fact that there's NO extra info on him is going to rise a flag or two, sooner or later. Absence of information IS a marker.

    Take care.

  4. I don't have a problem with the US Constitution not applying to Non-US citizens. Being protected by the Constitution should be a perk of being a US citizen.

  5. Reminds me of a sci-fi story I read years ago. A couple were speculating about how the number of interconnected computers over the internet had just exceeded the number of neurons in the human brain and what the hypothetical intelligence resulting from such a large amount of power would be like. Turns out the intelligence wasn't so hypothetical and the story ended with the man discarding everything electronic, to the point of ripping the wiring out of the walls. Thankfully we're not quite to that point yet.

  6. Will McKeon – If the rights are unalienable and granted by the creator, as stated in the Declaration of Independance – then the logical assuption is that they should, and do apply to all people regarless of where they call home. The fact that no other country (and now ours – leaving a whopping total of 0 countries) acknowledges this is, irrelevant.

    Sam – Tails is nice – but being relatively paranoid in regards to electronic monitoring, I'm not sure I trust TOR all that much, it must be working to some extent because there are noises floating about that indicate the FBI is cracking down on people starting up TOR servers. Still – better than a kick in the teeth. Now if I could just get the rest of my friends and Family to use GPG Tools…

    My problem is laziness; I only use my PC for games, and my Mac get's used for most everything else. I do plan to make my next computer a Linux only box now, that I can get Scrivener for it. If OpenGL (NextGL/Mantle/whatever they're calling it this week) gets a bit more support I can dump the PC & Mac which I'm sort of looking forward to.

  7. The extreme difficulty of not leaving footprints seems to indicate the best (for some values of "best") may be to establish such a generic and non-descript presence as to be indistinguishable from the norm.

    As shugyosha, above, points out, the lack of data is a marker, and unless that data goes completely to zero the voids will stand out.

    IIRC, SCOTUS (or it may have been one of the circuit appellate courts, can't remember) ruled years ago that use of an alias is not illegal so long as there is no intent to commit fraud. It may be possible to create a sufficiently strong alias, or multiple aliases, as to provide some degree of anonymity, but it's doubtful that "sufficiently strong" can be achieved external to substantial governmental assistance (e.g., witness protection) and even then it requires a tremendous amount of work to establish a life history that can withstand even moderate scrutiny; a 42-year-old who has existed for only 18 years does a great deal more than merely raise red flags. Even before the proliferation of electronic records a 38-year-old will leave a wide paper trail of school records, yearbook photos, driver license data, pharmacy-filled prescriptions, ad infinitum.

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