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How to Privatise Your Life

Most people simply don't get it. They don't realise the essential link between individual privacy and freedom - and civilisation itself. Too many people have been conned by the oft-repeated phrase, "If you haven't got anything to hide, then what are you afraid of?" And the implication of this question is that any desire for personal privacy is really a cover for wanting to "hide" something - and that "something" must be bad.

It appears that freedom lovers are forever having to justify their desire for privacy in the face of accusatory adversaries - those who desire the total elimination of all privacy.

We live in a world where, on one hand, privacy is touted as important - and government departments are set up to protect it - while at the same time it is being systematically destroyed.

This is achieved in a number of ways. First, there is a blurring of the distinction between voluntarily handing over information - like when entering into a commercial agreement, or purchasing something, or joining a private organisation - and being compelled to hand over information to a government agency.

There's a lot of talk about the need to protect consumers, with all sorts of privacy rules about what information can and cannot be shared. But there is no discussion on the need to protect individuals from governments prying into their affairs.

The "war on terror" has accelerated this trend - making even more urgent demands for a more complete elimination of all forms of privacy - personal privacy, communications privacy and financial privacy.

What's a serious freedom seeker to do? That's simple, you must start to protect your privacy in any and every way you can.

Privatising your life is nothing more that reclaiming what is rightfully yours - your own life.

In George Orwell's "1984", technology was completely in the hands of the state - and used for the purpose of total subjugation of the individual. Today, the reality is not so one-sided. Yes, we definitely have "Big Brother", but we also have various escape routes to avoid his perpetual glare. Technology has proven to be both a threat and a boon to freedom - depending on who is using it.

So, what can YOU do?

I suggest you start by keeping it simple. Privacy is as much an attitude as a strategy - and if you've not been accustomed to protecting your privacy, then you'll need time to adjust to a different mindset.

EMAIL COMMUNICATION

The internet is the most wonderful communication medium. It is also the most exposed. When you send an email it is NOT like sending a letter in the "old" days. No, it is more like sending a postcard.

Just ask yourself this question: would you write a letter, containing words you don't want anyone else to read, on the back of a postcard - where anyone can read it? Of course not. And yet, this is precisely what plain text email is. It's messages on the back of virtual postcards.

Now, of course, there are plenty of times when a postcard is a completely legitimate form of communication - like when you're on holiday and send them to friends saying, "having a great time and wish you were here!" - and similar sentiments. However, if you were writing a personal letter to your loved one, or discussing an important business proposition - it's not likely you'd send such communication by postcard. You'd seal it in an envelope.

As a simple yardstick, just ask yourself this question when sending email: "Do I mind if someone else reads this?". And if the answer is "yes", then you need to protect your communication in some way.

The electronic equivalent of sealing your letters is encryption - where your words are converted into "code" which can only be read by an authorised person.

Think of it as being similar to when you were a child, and first learnt the mysteries of writing "invisible" letters - in lemon juice, to be warmed up later in order to read it. Encryption achieves the same ends. It protects your personal communications against the prying eyes of strangers.

Trouble is, most people find it too cumbersome to use encryption software - like PGP (Pretty Good Privacy).

Many of you reading this will of course have and use PGP and realise it's not difficult at all really - once you have made the effort to download it and use it a couple of times.

If you haven't used PGP, then I certainly suggest you give it a try and see for yourself.

PGP: http://www.pgp.com

For those who simply can't be bothered with software and swapping keys etc, there is an alternative. You can use an encrypted email service and get all your important contacts to sign up to the same one.

To explain: if you use an email service that encrypts via SSL - meaning that all communications within the environment of that server are encrypted - then communications between users of the SAME system are secure and private.

What you would do is simply get all your regular friends, contacts and business associates to sign up for the same service - which is often free. That way you can then email each other, knowing that your communications are secure.

Two suggested services you can try (out of many) are:

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

MailVault: http://www.mailvault.com

Mailvault also allows you to communicate via PGP both internally and externally - as PGP is built in.

SNAILMAIL COMMUNICATION

Of course email hasn't completely replaced normal mail. And I'm sure you have plenty of occasion to use it. It's a given that you will seal your letters - and even register them (although I believe plain sealed envelopes still offer the best form of communication privacy). But have you given any thought to keeping your own residential address private? Well you should.

The simplest way is just to open a Post Office Box and have all your mail delivered there. In some parts of the world, opening such a box will involved disclosure of your identity and actual residential address. But not everywhere. So, if you have important communications you want to keep private, consider opening a mail box in a country where you are not asked these things - and where they will forward mail to wherever you are.

There are many options for mail-forwarding, and some will even forward faxes and even emails. You can often get a voicemail telephone service combined - providing you with a virtual office capable of handling all incoming and outgoing communications.

If you type in MBE or Mail Boxes Etc into Google, you'll find they have a world-wide presence. There are also many small operators - so try a search using the term "private mail drop" - and you'll get an idea of what is available.

PRIVATE SURFING

Another area where privacy can been compromised is your everyday act of surfing the web. When you move from web site to web site you leave tracks - footprints, which point to where you are and where you have come from - tracing you back to your ISP, who no doubt knows where you live!

Now, if all you do is read Google News every day, then you are not going to be too concerned about others knowing your online habits. But there are many occasions when you may be concerned.

One way to hide your tracks is to use the services of an anonymiser of some sort. This passes your web surfing commands through an anonymous third party - so that your IP address is not logged when you visit. You are basically "cloaked" and invisible.

There are many services offering this type of privacy, but one you may like to check out is:

Metropipe Tunneller: http://www.metropipe.net

FINANCIAL PRIVACY

It's a fact of life that your local bank is an agent of the government. Everything you tell them, and every transaction you make using them, is readily available to government authorities on demand. And not only information - but your money itself. Yes, most governments now have the power to dip directly into your bank accounts and siphon off money - without you even knowing about it until after the event.

There is a simple answer. Open a bank account in another country, where your government cannot pry.

Most people find the idea of opening a bank account in another country both strange and somewhat dangerous. But nothing could be further from the truth - particularly if you deal with well- known and reputable banks. In fact, you'll find there is a whole "offshore" banking industry that is constantly looking for your business. You just need to take advantage of it.

Obviously, some countries are better for banking than others. Some countries actually respect your privacy - and don't pry into your financial affairs. These are the banks you want to deal with.

Keep in mind that to open any legitimate bank account, you will be required to provide ID (certified copy of your passport) and sometimes other bank references. And since the advent of the "Patriot Act", many banks have been forced to implement more rigourous account opening procedures and policies.

You can increase your level of financial privacy by operating such a bank account via an offshore corporation or trust - as this adds a further layer of protection between you and your money.

Opening an offshore account is not that difficult, once you know exactly what you want to achieve, and have done sufficient research to make a decision on what bank you want to use.

There are simply too many banks worthy of consideration to suggest any particular ones here. And like any business, different banks pitch themselves at different types of customers.

But here are a few pointers to get you started: Look for a bank that doesn't require an overly large opening deposit. $1,000 should be enough in most cases, or perhaps up to $5,000. Look for a bank that has a good online banking system - which allows you to do a full range of banking transactions, including wiring out funds as required. Make sure such internet banking has good security - and doesn't leave you worrying about someone hacking your account and stealing your funds. When choosing what country, keep in mind the time zone - as you will want to be able to phone them at a time other than 3 am during your night! It should also be obvious that you need a bank where the staff speak your language. Make sure they offer accounts in multiple currencies, as you'll find this a useful feature. And lastly, find out what type of credit and/or debit cards they issue, and under what terms.

Increasing your personal, communications and financial privacy is not that hard, you just need to decide on it, and do it. And once you have started, you'll find an increased sense of personal control over your affairs - and an increased sense of security.

Why wait? You can implement privacy strategies one by one, to suit your needs and circumstances. The important thing is to START.

Yours in freedom

David MacGregor

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