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PRIVACY IS AN INDIVIDUAL RIGHT:
How to Secure Your Personal and Business Communications

How often have you heard the phrase, "Well, if you have nothing to hide, then you have no need to be concerned with losing your privacy" - or something similar?

It's an argument from intimidation - designed to stop further questioning, by implying guilt on the part of anyone who disagrees. And when confronted with it, you ARE put on guard - as perhaps someone who DOES have something to hide!

However, there are many, many reasons why you would legitimately want to retain your privacy - both for personal and business reasons.

Just ask yourself the question, "Would I like it if anybody could read a personal letter to my romantic partner?" Or, "Would I be happy knowing some unauthorised person was reading my business correspondence?"

The answer, of course, is "no"!

For any self-respecting individual, it is an absolute right to be able to conduct one's personal and business affairs in private - regardless of whether one NEEDS such privacy or not.

If one has a right to one's own life - then one also has the right to keep the details of such a life private - to oneself, and to those with whom you intend to share it.

At one time this was relatively easy. Go back 100 years, and you'd be surprised how much effective privacy the average person had. But today it is very different. Ever since the development of the electronic database, telecommunications, computers, and of course the internet - your right to privacy has been under an increasing threat. And in the "war on terrorism", the state has the perfect excuse to undermine your privacy even more.

So, where do you start?

My advice is to start with the small, but obvious things - to get yourself used to operating in a more private life-environment.

Take the humble letter.

It's true to say that the ordinary letter is still generally secure. If you want to say something private - it is probably better to send it by ordinary mail, than by courier. With a courier service, the package is subject to a much higher level of scrutiny, and intrusion. Sure, it may get there quicker - but at greater risk to your privacy.

Strange as it may seem, in this technological age, the simple act of enclosing a letter in an envelope provides a level of privacy that is hard to find anywhere else.

To improve on your privacy even more, you should consider renting a PO Box, or using a private mail-drop service. Make it a policy to have all your mail sent to an address that is NOT where you live.

Now, in most places, you will be asked for an address when opening a PO Box - and most often, it is quite easy to provide a "slightly wrong" address. If that is not possible - then make sure to NOT advise the PO Box people next time you move house. If even this is impossible, then you may have to employ the services of a professional mail-drop service in another jurisdiction.

And what about the electronic letter - email?

Well here, unfortunately, it is much easier to let your words end up in front of prying eyes.

With a letter, you seal it in an envelope. With an email, you send it fully exposed. In this way, an email is very like a postcard - with the words visible to anyone who cares to read them.

Enhancing your email privacy is not that hard to do.

The very simplest strategy is to use one of the many free web- based email services - like Yahoo or HotMail. These operate like an anonymous PO Box - allowing you to send and receive email with no trace as to WHO you really are, or WHERE you are.

You can open different mailboxes for different purposes - and there is no need to disclose your real name.

This strategy doesn't, of course, stop your email from being read along the way - but it does protect the identity of the correspondents (provided they don't disclose such within their emails).

If you mostly use POP-based email - the sort where you have an email address as provided by your ISP - then you will need to ratchet up your privacy strategy.

There are a few ways you can do this.

The best, in my opinion, is to download the software package, PGP (Pretty Good Privacy), to your own computer, and encrypt your sensitive communications on the fly.

Encryption is just another word for turning your words into code, code that cannot be read by anyone other than the intended recipient. Code that can only be "unlocked" by a special type of key.

When you write an email using PGP - you write it as normal, but just before pressing the "send" button - you press "encrypt" - which will then convert your words to unreadable and random characters.

To use this system you, and the person(s) you are writing to, must also have PGP installed, and you need to have exchanged public "keys" beforehand - the instructions necessary to decrypt a message when received, and encrypt a message when sent.

To learn more about PGP go to:

The PGP Corporation: http://www.pgp.com

Some people balk at using encryption software - claiming it's too difficult. Well, let me tell you - it ain't!

Once you have downloaded and installed it, it really is a breeze, requiring only the press of a button to send, and the entering of a passphrase to decrypt received email.

However, there are a few EASIER ways to secure your email, if you don't want to use PGP, or bother with a desktop solution.

If your need for private communication is limited to a small group of individuals - then you can all open a web-based email account - offering SSL encryption - with the same provider. This is where the network itself encrypts all data sent over it. So, by all having an email address within the same server network - you can achieve 100% privacy for communications sent to the same domain.

SSL encryption is the process used by companies when asking you to quote your credit card details, when purchasing online.

An SSL web-based service I can recommend for this purpose is:

SAFe-mail at: http://www.safe-mail.net

All you need to do is open a free account - and get all your friends and associates (whoever you want to communicate privately with) to open an account with the same service. And from then on, you simply send an email from your own address: you@safe-mail.net - to your friend at: yourfriend@safe-mail.net.

A third alternative for enhancing your communication privacy is to use a web-based service that actually uses PGP to encrypt your messages, without the need for you to download PGP. This works whether you are sending messages to users on thesame network, or to others outside the network (who have PGP on their own computer).

As an example, someone wants to send you a PGP-encrypted message, but you'd rather not bother downloading and using PGP on your own computer. In such a case, you can open a web-based account, which automatically includes the creation of your own PGP keys, and then allows you to send and receive PGP-encrypted email from there.

A service I use regularly for this is:

MailVault: http://www.mailvault.com

There are a number of other services that offer various forms and degrees of privacy and/or encryption - which you may like to check out. For starters you can take a look at:

HushMail: http://www.hushmail.com

ZipLip: http://www.ziplip.com

Basically, the "rule" regarding the use of privacy tools is this: if what you want to say is something you'd rather nobody else saw (for whatever reason), then you should be taking steps to either encrypt it directly - or by using one of the suggested privacy services.

Words can come back to bite you. Don't expose yourself or your communications unnecessarily - especially when it's relatively easy to prevent it.

Yours in freedom

David MacGregor

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