By Seth Schoen
In the past several weeks, EFF has received many requests for advice about privacy tools that provide technological shields against mass surveillance. We’ve been interested for many years in software tools that help people protect their own privacy; we’ve defended your right to develop and use cryptographic software, we’ve supported the development of the Tor software, and written privacy software of our own.
This article is part one of a two-part series. In this part, we’ll take a brief look at some of the available tools to blunt the effects of mass surveillance. In the second part, we’ll discuss the big picture, reasons Internet users have been slow to adopt cryptographic software, and some limitations of existing technology’s ability to defend us against government snooping.
I. The things users want to keep private
There are many different kinds of electronic surveillance and many aspects of our communicative activities we may want to keep private. The online privacy landscape can be daunting in part because each different tool addresses different kinds of monitoring and privacy threats.
For example, most web browsers now include a “private browsing mode” which limits the web history kept on your own computer, preventing others who access your computer from learning about your browsing, but which has no effect on the data that’s transmitted over the Internet, and doesn’t try to stop, say, your Internet service provider from knowing where you went online.
Similarly, some privacy settings on services like Google and Facebook limit the display of some account history and information either to you or to your friends, but don’t do anything at a technical level to stop Google or Facebook themselves from accessing or recording the communications and activities you send through their sites.