Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Tips for Staying Safe, or, Paranoid Much?

Ever since we read Little Brother for our One Book One Zip Code program this year, I've wanted to learn more about maintaining my privacy online. So I picked up J. J. Luna's How to Be Invisible: Protect Your Home, Your Children, Your Assets, and Your Life. I quickly realized that this book wasn't going to help me much in the way of online privacy protection, as it is geared more toward physical invisibility, but it was so extreme, I couldn't stop reading it. Here's what I learned:

1. Don't ever give out your home address to anyone, ever, under any circumstances. No utilities, no magazine or paper subscriptions, letters, packages, etc. Nothing. Ever. Never have mail delivered to your home. No pizza delivery. Don't put your return address on anything. In fact, don't even put your address numbers on your house. If someone is visiting, assuming you've run a background check and they've been given clearance, give them general directions, put out a pink flamingo on the lawn and tell them to look for that. Take down the flamingo after they've left. Get a P.O Box or a commercial box and have all packages and correspondence mailed there. When setting the box up, don't give them your home address either. If you (or someone else) accidentally leaks your home address, move. When moving, preferably rent. Pay the lease in cash, up front. If you must buy, pay in cash. How does one get a cell phone or utility or anything if you don't provide an address? He has tips for this, which include using a fake name, setting up an LLC, or using a "ghost address" which is like using an abandoned building as your address.

2. Aside from never giving out your address, he also advises that you never give out your DOB, SSN, or even your real name, to anyone.

3. If you need a cleaning person for your home or office, hire a Jehovah's Witness. They'll never leak your address to anyone. And they are used to taking trash with them to dispose of in other locations.

4. Don't put anything in the trash outside your home except for food scraps. No paper, no Rx bottles, even condom wrappers. Because someone can use this to figure things out about you. When destroying papers, use a cross-shredder, put the remains in separate garbage bags and dispose of them off site in different locations. Or better yet, burn everything and scatter the ashes somewhere else.

5. Need to go to the doctor or ER? Don't ever provide your true DOB, SSN, address or anything. Pay for all medical services in cash, or go to Canada or Mexico for treatment. If you have to call 911, do so from a cell phone, so they can't track your address.

6. Don't use a cellphone. Get a pager, like it's 1985. Facebook and other social media is out of the question. If you must use email (which you shouldn't), make sure you are encrypting every message you send. No WiFi connections. Make sure the room you are using the computer in has steel plates around it and no windows. Preferably underground. The best method of communication is actually via the US postal service. When sending a letter, use a regular envelope. Do not use a seal or tape, because this draws attention to the envelope. Make sure you have the correct postage. Wrap the contents of the letter in carbon paper. This prevents someone from using freon to make the envelope transparent. Try to mail the letter from a city other than the one in which you live.

7. Have a secret room in your house to store your computer, documents, etc.

And this is just low-level basic security that everyone should employ. If you need even higher security because you are on the run from an abusive ex, loan sharks, mafia, criminals, or the authorities, he has even more extreme tips.

Luna claims that all his suggestions are legal and he never condones any illegal activities or lying to the IRS. But his tips just feel borderline unethical and frankly, creepy. Who would want to live this way, constantly suspicious of everyone? If you needed to hide from an abusive ex or a stalker, I can see how these tips could be useful, but for the average person, most of this is just too extreme and impractical. And it's clear that he has absolutely no idea what it's like to be young and middle class in today's age. Pay for your home in cash? Pay for medical treatment in cash or go outside of the country? Ha! Avoid cell phones, Internet, email, etc.? That's how the world works today.

I consider myself to be a pretty suspicious person. I don't talk to strangers. I don't let strangers into my home. I don't give out personal information to random callers over the phone. I don't give my bank account information to Nigerian princes online. Granted, there are things I should do, like beef up my passwords and be more diligent with shredding my documents, but I think I'll take my chances with the rest.