In case you missed it, there’s a case going before the Supreme Court in June that could affect us all. It involves digital privacy and it’s being called the most important electronic privacy case of the 21st century.
In a nutshell, the Supreme Court will decide whether or not the government can acquire data without a warrant. If the case is lost, it could determine digital privacy and potentially lead the way for even closer government surveillance.
What’s interesting is that people have long been concerned about protecting individual privacy from the government. In 1604, England’s attorney general, Sir Edward Coke, ruled that a man’s house is his castle. This meant that a homeowner had the right to protect himself and his privacy from the king’s agents.
This idea crossed the Atlantic. When it was time to write the Constitution, the Founding Fathers made sure to prohibit unreasonable searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment.
Digital Privacy Concerns
Of course, this is a bit tricky in the 21st Century. Unless you’re completely off-the-grid, hackers, companies, and governments are monitoring your private communications, browsing habits, and other data breadcrumbs. While some of this is completely out-of-control, there are ways that you’re jeopardizing your own digital privacy.
1. Phone calls, text messaging, and email.
Unless you take the appropriate precautions, whenever you communicate with someone digitally there’s a possibility it can be seen by others. For example, your employer has the right to monitor your work emails. At home, hackers and law enforcement agencies can access your home computer and local copies of your emails.
Unfortunately, it’s not just your emails that are up-for-grabs. Phone calls and private text-message-like communication can also be monitored or accessed.
So, how do you make sure that your emails, calls, and messages remain private?
Start by using end-to-end encryption. This way when your message is transmitted it’s done so in an encoded text. As it goes through a intermediate systems, such as email network, only the encrypted message can be seen. Once it arrives to the recipient, they’ll be able to view the message.
The good news is that there are plenty of communication platforms that offer end-to-end encryption. For texts use WhatsApp, while Tutanota is perfect for emails. Just keep in mind that if an email recipient doesn’t use a secure service the messages may not be secured.
If you really want to step-up your encryption game, then get a virtual private network (VPN). This way others won’t be able to directly view the internet traffic from your phone or computer. Freedome by F-Secure is an affordable and powerful option.
2. Juice jacking and fake hotspots.
Unless you’re a recluse, you’re most likely going to go out in public occasionally. Eventually while you’re out-and-about, you’ll need to recharge your smartphone’s battery. Like everyone does, you plug your phone into a charging station.
Here’s when that can become a concern. Those cords that are recharging your battery can also be used to transmit data. This means that a hacker could potentially manipulate these charging cords so that they can steal your personal information. This is called juice jacking.
To be honest, this threat is low. But, as public charging stations become increasingly popular, it’s should still be a concern. To avoid juice jacking, make sure you leave the home with a fully charged battery and carry a personal charger. If you do charge your phone in public is to lock or shut off your phone.
Even if you prevent juice jacking, there are other security threats when out in public. Most notably this is fake hotspots where you believe that you’ve logged into a legit Wi-Fi hotspot. Instead, criminals trick you into logging into a fake hotspot that appears to be authentic.
After you’ve willingly signed-in, these nefarious individuals may be able to see everything on your screen. That means that can see your passwords to your bank account to social media logins.
You can protect your privacy on public Wi-Fi networks by only logging onto secured pages with a “https” in the address. Also go ahead and use that VPN service we previously discussed.
3. People searches.
Personal information sites, such as genealogy and people-search websites, have been around for years. However, they’re becoming more popular and easier to access. And, as you’ve guessed, they’ve also made it more convenient for fraudsters to obtain your personal information.
For example, instead of the website providing you with information, you’re actually sharing personal information with the site. The reason? You’re told that by answering a series questions you’ll receive better results.
Sites like Family Tree Now and TruthFinder are infamous for pulling this trick. And, while definitely creepy, it’s not illegal.
The good new is that you can opt out of most people search sites so that others can’t find you on sites like Family Tree Now.
Additionally, use caution when providing information to third-party sites. If something smells fishy, then trust your instincts and don’t provide all the private information that the site is asking.
Finally, there’s doxing, which is short for “dropping docs.” This is when info like phone numbers, addresses, email addresses, and personal pictures are found and shared online. The purpose? To encourage harassment.
Now, if this private information was gathered from publicly accessed accounts, like a public Facebook page, it’s not necessarily illegal. That’s why you should make all of your social media accounts private.
But for an added layer of protection, you should also avoid posting your full name, age, gender and date of birth, location, email addresses and username, and phone number online. It also wouldn’t hurt to go through and delete older and compromising posts and pictures.
Protecting your digital privacy.
When it comes to protecting your own digital privacy, a lot of it is using common sense. If you don’t want people to know your phone number, then don’t publically post it online.
You also need to be proactive and take the following steps:
- Practice security basics. Don’t open messages from unknown senders. And, particularly don’t click on any links. This way you can avoid malware and phishing scams. Also make sure your operating system, browser, and security software up to date.
- Privacy settings. Update your privacy settings on all of your social media sites, as well as search sites like Google.
- Block cookies. This will make it more difficult for websites to track your online activity.
- Unlink accounts. Sure, it’s convenient to use your Gmail or Facebook account to log into a website. But, if one of these sites is compromised, then it puts all of these linked accounts in jeopardy.
- Secure connections, firewalls, and antivirus services. Use only secure Wi-Fi connections, a firewall, and the latest anti-virus or anti-spyware.
- Stronger passwords. The more complex, the better. It’s recommended that you at least use eight characters or more with mixed types of characters. Since these can be difficult to remember, try passphrases or a password manager like LastPass.
- Browsing. Delete cookies frequently and log out of websites when you’re not using them. This also includes those handy office tools that you use to boost productivity. You also don’t want to put your business in harm.