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Five fun things you can do to avoid being spied on

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By Simon Davies

Recent disclosures are teaching us that if you want to avoid the snoopers you’re in for a tough road. Everyone is spying on everyone else, your social networking and phone dialogue is intercepted and there appear to be back-doors into most major computer systems.

The NSA is notoriously rubbish at pigeon handling and won’t know what to do.

We need to be innovative. Here’s the Privacy Surgeon’s advice on five fun ways to avoid being spied on.

1. Use pigeons

First, buy two carrier pigeons. Remember they need to be domesticated rock pigeons, not the trash you see in the local park. Try to match the colouring with your favourite endangered pigeon species here. By camouflaging them this way there’s less chance of them being shot down. The three-letter agencies can withstand most criticism, but taking pot shots at endangered birds isn’t one of them.

For the next bit you may need the help of a good IT person. Have them encrypt the data that you want the birds to carry.  The key has to be split so if one of the birds is killed or captured the data cannot be cracked. That means each bird is carrying half the key

Now, put it on a chip, strap it to your pigeon’s leg and send it off. The NSA is notoriously rubbish at pigeon handling and won’t know what to do.

In any case, the pigeon is a physical object and so technically it’s the responsibility of the CIA, while the encrypted chip is the responsibility of the NSA. The two agencies don’t coordinate very efficiently, so by the time they’ve figured out all the health and safety implications of pigeon handling the birds have already landed.

2. Develop your own code

Remember when we used to do this as children? Well, now we can do it all over again.

It’s important to remember though that the NSA computer systems are almost as clever as your mother, so be innovative. If you merely develop a new vocabulary, the system will suss you out fast.

It’s important to remember that the NSA computer systems are almost as clever as your mother

The trick is to use contextual manipulation. That’s like magicians’ tricks for language – simple and yet inscrutable.

The most basic example is that you simply reverse the intent of what you communicate. So, instead of saying “How about we meet at Jim’s Sports Bar at eight” you say “I can’t meet you at Jim’s Sports Bar at eight“.

Or, “I’ve just bought a ticket to Venezuela” becomes “I couldn’t buy that ticket to Venezuela.”

It would take the agencies maybe a week to latch on to your strategy, by which time you should rotate the code from first person subjective to singular second person conditional case. Example: “I’m afraid you might not get that ticket to Venezuela.

On the third week you should adopt the plural third-person subjective case, such as: “They couldn’t buy those tickets to Venezuela” and even progress to singular third-person neuter subjective case (the mighty “it”), but this probably won’t be necessary as you’ll already have utterly confused anyone listening.

3. Make lots of friends from target ethnicities

You get to mess with geo-politics while building genuinely interesting friendships with people from diverse cultures

This is a win-win. You get to mess with geo-politics while building genuinely interesting friendships with people from diverse cultures.

The NSA farms out all its low level analysis to companies that are run by bored systems administrators, so they’re usually a year behind current affairs. The trick is to find countries that had a skirmish last year and then cultivate loads of friendships from there.

The agencies will have a hard time distinguishing coded references to insurgency from excited discussions about cooking techniques for a truly delicious kushari. In the end they’ll give up because they just learned that Ireland is where all the action is!

4. Generate lots of white noise

We’re all familiar with the sound of white noise. Think of a waterfall, or a bathroom shower cascading onto a sheet of plastic. In technical terms, white noise (or the less well known pink and brown noise) is a random signal that contains equal power within any frequency band with a fixed width.

Sounds exciting eh! But what is less well known is that white noise is the natural enemy of computerised intelligence systems. The randomness of the signal totally messes with the computer, which knows something is going on but can’t figure out exactly what.

Keep your Google page up for Kushari recipes. For the serious stuff, use anything else

To communicate in white noise just visit one of the many online noise generator sites and figure out your vocabulary. You can use presets that allow dozens of variations. For example a simple pulse through an undulating brown noise could mean “see you in Colombia tomorrow!”

5. Use any search engine other than Google

Seriously, at the lowest operational level these contractor guys are geeks. But they’re mainly anally retentive geeks who feed off popular culture, rather than being well-rounded geeks who look for truly cool stuff.

That means Google is in the centre of their frame of reference. They truly believe it is awesome. Don’t disappoint them. Keep your Google page up and send it the odd request for Kushari recipes. For the serious stuff, use anything else. They won’t notice until, well, next year at least.

July 8, 2013