7 Ways to Stop Uncle Sam from Spying On You

You say you have no secrets. Your life's an open book. You have nothing to hide. But still, do you really want to make it easy for Uncle Sam -- or anyone else for that matter -- to rifle through your contact lists, read your e-mails or monitor your cash flow?

Probably not.

But privacy advocates say it's never been easier for the government to collect information about you.

"We all benefit from the explosion in communications technology, but it also means that there are new and growing caches of sensitive data about us," said Kevin Bankston, a senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group that, this week, launched a surveillance self-defense campaign.

On issues of digital privacy, Bankston said, the law has not kept pace with the boom in technology. Left out on a limb legally, he continued, Americans need to defend themselves technologically.

Not only do we need to be careful about protecting the information we store on our computers and cell phones, we need to be wary about data stored on the servers and in the databases of third-party companies who don't necessarily make privacy a priority.

ABCNews.com spoke with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other privacy advocates to learn some easy ways to protect our private information. Here are a few of their tips:

1. They can't take what you don't have. So, delete, delete, delete.

Bankston emphasized that it's very important to think carefully about the records you keep and establish a plan for the kinds of documents you hold on to and the length of time you hold on to them.

"If you don't have it, they can't get it," he said, adding that it's unlikely that we need e-mails that date back one, two or three years.

But it's not just documents and e-mail that we need to get rid of.

Check your Web browser regularly to clear the history of sites you've been looking at, the files you've downloaded, cached copies of Web pages and cookies from the sites you've visited.

Although it's convenient, the EFF advises against letting the browser save passwords for Web sites and data you enter into Web forms. If your computer is seized or stolen, all that information becomes exposed.

Don't Forget About IM

Privacy experts also caution that you can't forget about all those instant messaging conversations you have throughout the day. By default, most IM clients log all of your conversations. Check the software's preferences so that you know if it's saving the messages and for how long. And then decide if you want to set the system to not save any messages at all or clear out every month or every week.

Finally, privacy advocates say that when you delete, make sure you actually delete.

"Deleting" a file on your computer -- moving the file to the trash and then emptying the folder -- doesn't actually get rid of the file for good. It just makes the file invisible to the user and lets the computer know it can be overwritten with new data. Even if it gets overwritten, which could take weeks or years, computer experts can still figure out the initial data.

However, software exists that can securely delete files by overwriting them several times. The EFF says your operating system probably already includes software that can do this, and if not the EFF site includes links to other free deletion tools.

2. If you keep it, encrypt it.

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...
See It, Share It
PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin works out at Bocharov Ruchei residence in Sochi, Russia, Aug. 30, 2015.
Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
PHOTO: Director Wes Craven attends the screening of Life Itself at the ArcLight Cinemas, June 26, 2014, in Hollywood, Calif.
Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic/Getty Images