NOTE: This post is seriously off-topic for this blog; but it is a subject upon which I regularly get questioned by friends and family…so I’m posting it here for public discussion.
Twenty-one years ago, I took the following oath of office as a new basic cadet at the U.S. Air Force Academy:
I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.
This is an oath I have been bound to for 21 years and am still as a commissioned officer in the Texas Air National Guard.
As any school child in the US can tell you, the first ten Amendments to the Constitution are called the Bill of Rights. They include declarations of Americans’ rights to free speech and freedom from unreasonable searches.
The First Amendment guarantees the right to free speech and states:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Similarly, the Fourth Amendment provides for the protection of our privacy from unwarranted prying eyes of the government:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Unfortunately, for decades since Cold War technology enabled it, those rights have gone unprotected–or selectively protected–for some Americans. After 9.11.01, with the introduction of the Patriot Act, lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle essentially denied these fundamental rights to all Americans enabling the now standard practice of the NSA (and who knows what other government agencies) to collect as much data about all of our communications as possible. These communications include not just public ones–blog posts, tweets, Facebook statuses, etc.–but ones that are reasonably considered private–text messages, emails, details about phone calls, etc.
Until last summer, when Edward Snowden’s revelations about our own government’s widespread data collection and spying on US citizens became public, I was a long-time user (think back to when Gmail was invite only!) of online email and storage services by Google, Dropbox, Box, and others based in the US. These are all technologically great services that exemplify the functionality, beauty, and cross-platform elegance many of us have come to love about online services. Since the initial news broke; however, there has been a nearly non-stop string of additional, ever-troubling disclosures about the NSA’s compromise of nearly every US-hosted web service imaginable.
For one sworn to support the Constitution, this is a big deal.
Because their compromise by the NSA is directly opposed to the rights established and guaranteed by the Constitution, I no longer believe using any of these services is the right thing to do. In other words, knowingly using a service that violates the basic rights afforded to Americans is anti-patriotic because it defies the Constitution. These rights and this argument has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not we as citizens have anything to hide–quite honestly I don’t. It’s a matter of principle, like the initial struggle that formed our nation. I no longer use these services because they (willingly or not, depending on which sources you believe) directly oppose the fundamental rights upon which our grand country was established.
So what services do I use? Great question. Over the past seven months, I’ve tried out many different services from around the world that offer various levels of security and privacy for their email and storage. Currently I use:
- email: Posteo email — for 1 euro (about $1.30) per month you get email hosted in Germany (read up on their privacy laws if concerned) with 2 GB of storage (more storage is cheap), IMAP/POP, webDAV-accessible calendar, English-capable webmail interface, etc. The UI isn’t as fancy as Gmail or Yandex mail, but it’s plenty good enough.
- online storage: Tresorit for encrypted storage (encryption takes place on your machine before being uploaded…this is important) / Jottacloud and Telekom-DE mediacenter for unencrypted storage that is easy to share. Each of these services is hosted in EU nations that are not keen on letting the US pry on their customers.
Is this a perfect solution? Nope. Can US spooks find their way into anywhere they really want to be? Probably. Like I said, it’s a matter of principle and a small one–a band-aid of sorts until such time as we the people can make legislative changes to prevent future disregard of our foundational American rights.
One final note: if you’re interested in signing up for Tresorit or Jottacloud, drop me a note (tcjudd AT posteo.org) and I’ll send you an invite. We’ll both get more storage that way! Also, if you’re intimidated by the German-only sign-up process for Posteo, let me know in the comments and I’ll put together a translated tutorial.