Thank God for Edward Snowden. I used to warn people about surveillance and the death of privacy, but most of them found it hard to believe me; it was just too far out of the mainstream. Not so anymore.
Just as the diversification of investments has become crucial, so has digital diversification. Not only are the Western nations (especially the US and UK) abusing every piece of data they can touch, but the Hollywood/DC complex has been throwing around their power thuggishly. It’s way beyond suing 12-year-old girls, by the way; if you haven’t seen the raid on Kim Dotcom’s house, you really should. And not only are they forcibly shutting down many web services, but they are pushing laws that allow the Hollywood studios to break into your computer – legally.
Since I have been involved with an international privacy company (Cryptohippie.com) for some time, let me report to you what we have found on the subject of digital diversification.
The first thing many people think about for digital diversification is privacy laws. I’m sorry to tell you, however, that they don’t matter very much. They can be important for networks and data centers, but not often for individual users.
The reason for this is the international construction of the Internet. Your Internet traffic (surfing, email, Skype, whatever) is not contained within any single country – it flies right past national borders without the slightest delay.
Making things worse, it probably passes through the United States, whose NSA grabs it all and shares or sells it to god knows who. (Again, I refer you to Mr. Snowden, as well as to William Binney, Russell Tice, and Mark Klein, previous whistle-blowers.)
Take a look at this representation of world Internet traffic, and notice that nearly all of it passes through the US.
So, regardless of local privacy laws, your Internet traffic will more than likely be grabbed by the US and UK. (Not to mention non-government data thieves.)
The Copyright Thugs
As noted above, the Intellectual Property (IP) thugs have been unleashed, and they have often ruined businesses for the ‘crime’ of merely linking to a site where some kind of pirated music, video, or software may have been found. To avoid these excesses of law, you definitely do not want your server to be located inside the US, or in any country that cooperates too closely with the US government.
Which locations to choose depends on what you want to do with your server. Here are some examples:
- If you run a very simple, static site, just for fun and with no controversial content, you can pick anywhere that gives you a good price and fast access (even the US). But don’t allow links to be posted by users. If they link to a copy of Braveheart, you could have a problem on your hands.
- If you want a server (or a virtual server, which is smaller and cheaper) and you want to allow people to post comments, go offshore. If your site is very simple, will see little traffic, and requires very little in the way of resources, you can go with anything you find. But if you choose a server in the Caribbean, for example, be aware that your server may fall offline from time to time. (I know from personal experience as well as reports from others.)
- If you will see more traffic, make sure to check on the connection your data center (where your server is located) has to the Internet. The larger the connection and the larger the number of connections to international fibers, the better. You will, of course, pay more for these servers.
- If you run a professional service, look for data centers that will give you real customer service. You cannot allow your professional service to just vanish for a few days, while you track down a technician who likely doesn’t speak your language. In our experience, servers in central and northern Europe are the best choice: Switzerland, Holland, Germany, Austria, and so on. The laws there are fairly good for networks, and the data centers employ professional technicians. You’ll have to pay more, of course, but if you’re running a serious service, it is well worth it.
If you’re running a Free Tibet web site, or anything like it, consider first who your enemies are likely to be, then avoid them and their allies – rent your servers somewhere that they and their friends are not.
The Dutch have long prided themselves in shielding such groups, so the Netherlands may be a good choice. (Some of the Scandinavians have taken that position as well.) But take a look at other politically persecuted web sites and see where they keep their servers.
And DO tell the data center what you are doing. If they know, they may very well protect you as best they can; but if not, your site will come down, probably at the first attack.
There is nowhere on the planet that is free from surveillance now – it’s simply too cheap, too easy, and too profitable.
The BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) are planning fiber optic cables that they do not share with the US or UK, so data centers on that line may be a better choice at some point. Rest assured, however, that Russia, China, et al, will be running their own surveillance. It will merely be a question of who is reading all your traffic.
Protection from surveillance requires encryption and an anonymity network. We covered that in a previous article, here.
It doesn’t take a lot of time or a lot of effort to secure your digital world, but you have to DO IT. Most people don’t want to be bothered and just go with whatever someone else is willing to set up for them.
But you wouldn’t diversify your finances based on the word of a friend’s brother-in-law, would you?
Likewise, don’t build your digital world blindly, taking the first and easiest option you can find. This doesn’t require weeks of work, but it does require some thought and some effort. It will be a good investment of your time.
“Digital Diversification: How to Do It” was originally published at InternationalMan.com