April 24th, 2013 — Privacy, Surveillance
Consider offering a private mail spot to people in your neighborhood. When a neighbor buys something on the Web that she would like to order privately, she can use a name that isn’t her own, pay with a gift card or other means of anonymous payment, and have the retailer send the package to your address. When you get the package for “Princess Peach,” you put it on the outside bookshelf or table that is your community private mail spot.
We used to be able to buy lots of things locally and discreetly with cash. Now, stores on the Web have underpriced and replaced small specialty shops. Buying certain chemicals, tools, or publications on the Web in your own name can now attract attention that many adults don’t want to entertain. Continue reading →
March 8th, 2013 — CryptoParty
Here are some posters, models, and stickers from our CryptoParty at Stanford University on February 24, 2013.
I’m publishing these things under the CC0 license, which means Creative Commons No Rights Reserved. People who own included copyrighted or trademarked images that I’ve used under the Fair Use Doctrine retain all their property rights. Use my stuff however you want; don’t bother the other nice people.
The lesson sheets were to help our volunteer teachers remember the main points of each program that they were teaching. I had them laminated.
We made cardboard keys to illustrate how, in public-key encryption, the secret key and public key are related. Each key is about six inches (15 cm) long. Each key has two layers. Within each set, the layers of the secret key and the public key mate. There are several copies of each public key. The volunteers showed how intricately each key mates with its partner, but not with any keys from another set. The guest kept her secret key, then passed copies of her public key to other people at her table. Continue reading →
March 7th, 2013 — CryptoParty
Last Sunday, we threw a party for roughly thirty people at our Stanford University apartment complex to share knowledge about basic encryption programs.
Our goal was to help everyone improve their Internet privacy and their control over their own computers. We used the CryptoParty Handbook, which activists at cryptoparty.org publish for free. I see basic encryption programs as way for ordinary people to regain some dignity and freedom. I want to help people push back against the companies and government agencies that are gathering and storing data about us with hasty, leaky, and merciless thoroughness.
We focused on seven topics. First was strong passwords: how to create them and encouragement to write them down and keep them in our wallets. We helped most people install Https Everywhere in their Firefox Web browsers. This add-on gives the user an encrypted connection to any Web page that offers it. People also learned about the search engines DuckDuckGo and StartPage, which, unlike Google or Bing, don’t track people.
We also learned how to encrypt files with Truecrypt, a free program. Next, how to encrypt email messages using Gnu Privacy Guard, Thunderbird, and Enigmail. These three programs are all free. They work together. This topic was the most challenging, because it takes time to install the three programs and to picture Continue reading →
June 10th, 2012 — Honeybees
Honeybees are in trouble. Honeybees pollinate many of the food plants that we eat, and make all our honey, so this news is not good. Beginning in 2006, roughly half of beekeepers’ bees have died every year. Honeybees are dying in the United States, Britain, continental Europe, and other places. No one knows why, for how long it will go on, or with what consequences.
When I learned several years ago about this sudden rise in honeybees’ mortality, I wondered if I could do something to help. Like thousands of other people reacting to this news, I’ve become a beekeeper. My neighborhood has built and distributed beehives hoping to give our local honeybees safe places to live during this difficult time. I’ve tried to get many people involved at every stage. The project has required only rudimentary skills and has been inexpensive. It’s been very rewarding. Here is how to do it.
Continue reading →
February 16th, 2012 — Privacy
AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, Virgin Mobile, and MetroPCS are all able to gather loads of information about their smartphone customers. Recent news about CarrierIQ shows that, on occasion, some carriers are also willing to. They can gather up their customers’ locations; their phone call, email, and text message recipients and contents; and the Web sites they looked at and what they typed on them. That is a thick dossier. Thick dossiers are tempting to nosy, vindictive, and greedy people, not to mention blockheads with badges.
Want to take back some privacy, but still enjoy the power of a high-end smartphone? Consider buying the smartphone with cash, at the full retail price. Then, consider paying for the service anonymously, with cash, on a pay-as-you-go plan. Continue reading →
January 27th, 2012 — Copyright, Privacy, Surveillance
“The following information was submitted to the U.S. Copyright Office at 15:45 on 1/26/12.”
Device Classes 4 and 5
I am a privacy advocate, computer hobbyist, writer, and mother of three teenage daughters. On my smartphones, tablets, and laptop computers, I install software that keeps my identity and my location (IP address) private, encrypts my communications, and encrypts the data on my devices. I think that these measures are fundamental to defending my dignity and autonomy. I install the same software on my daughters’ devices. I teach my daughters that many profit-seeking people and a few unscrupulous people might otherwise use information about them in ways that could harm them or make them unhappy. The solution is not to throw up our hands and declare that “Privacy is dead!” Instead, we take responsibility to make the devices that we own protect us.
I want to take these measures legally. Continue reading →
April 22nd, 2010 — Contraception, Women
by Rhona Mahony. Many women in developing countries tell surveyors that they want to have no more children or that they would like to space the births of their future children. Yet, in some countries, over half of those women have never used modern contraception. Private clinics, pharmacies, and public clinics in many developing countries now sell birth control cheaply. Why aren’t women taking advantage of it? A cleverly designed experiment in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, has found one reason. Husbands want more children than their wives do. When wives in Lusaka had a chance to get contraceptives that their husbands didn’t know about, 23 percent more went to the public clinic’s family planning nurse and 38 percent more chose a form of birth control that could be hidden from their husbands, such as an injectable contraceptive. The result: those women had 57 percent fewer unwanted births.
Continue reading →
January 22nd, 2010 — Open source software, Privacy
by Rhona Mahony. Google revealed last week that network intruders have read email messages in the Google accounts of Chinese human rights activists. Someone–still unknown–is determined to spy on Chinese dissidents. Other someones are determined to identify undercover police officers, ferret out employees who secretly inform the police about their company’s crimes, and stalk their own wives who have left home to escape battering. Hundreds of volunteers are now running an Internet service for people who need to protect their privacy. The service is called Tor, the Onion Router. Anyone can provide Tor, for free. Anyone can use Tor to protect his privacy, for free.
Bill McGonigle, of Lebanon, New Hampshire, decided to become a Tor volunteer when he learned that people in Iran were protesting the results of their June Presidential election. They were using the Internet to organize their meetings. The Iranian government was trying to censor their messages to one another. “I have a soft-spot for people trying to gain liberty for themselves,” he wrote in an email, “especially against tyrannical regimes. It became known that they were using Tor to get around the censorship, so at that point I put up a relay….The people I’d like to help are those living under violence-based oppression, most commonly orchestrated by dangerous and corrupt individuals posing as legitimate governments. I’d like to see an end to oppression wherever it exists.”
To become a volunteer, download this software.
To use Tor to protect your own privacy, download this software Continue reading →
December 9th, 2008 — Airport security, War on Terror
by Rhona Mahony. Last Thursday, December 5, I brought five ounces (140 grams) of old-fashioned black gunpowder to San Francisco airport. I also brought along a boarding pass for United flight 720 to Denver that I had created at home, in an computer art program. TSA agents accepted the boarding pass. They also took no notice at all of the gunpowder. Accepting the boarding pass was reasonable. Boarding passes that we design and print at home look just like ones designed by the airlines that we print at home. I had thought, though, that I might elicit a short conversation about the gunpowder. Mind you, I had packed the stuff safely. It was in three separate jars: one of charcoal, one of sulphur, and one of saltpetre (potassium nitrate). Each jar was labeled: Charcoal, Sulphur, Saltpetre. I had also thoroughly wet down each powder with tap water. No ignition was possible. As a good citizen, I had packed the resulting pastes into a quart-sized “3-1-1″ plastic bag, along with my shampoo and hand cream. This bag I took out of my messenger bag and put on top of my bin of belongings, turned so that the labels were easy for the TSA inspector to read.
It was my suitcase that caught the attention of the TSA fellow watching the baggage X-ray monitor. He frowned. Then he waved over a stocky TSA co-worker. The co-worker picked up my suitcase and carried it down to me at the end of the conveyor belt. “Anything sharp or fragile in here?,” he asked. “Not that I can think of,” I said. What had the first fellow seen? Continue reading →
December 3rd, 2008 — electric vehicles
Shai Agassi plans to sell purely electric cars to people unwilling to pay one red cent extra for anything green. His company, Better Place (BP), will be fully set up in Israel by 2011, he says, in Denmark about six months after that, and in Australia about a year after Denmark. San Francisco’s mayor, Gavin Newsome, who has just bought a Tesla Roadster, hopes to bring Better Place cars to his city. The cars, though, need a dense network of special battery-swap and charging stations to work. San Franciscans might not want a car that can’t be driven far from home. Once a driver has passed the last electron-filling station, she can only drive 50 miles (80 km) before turning back for a refill.
Required to be Better
The Better Place car looks sensible on an island, where drivers will feel constrained by geography, not their batteries. The island must have high taxes on internal-combustion cars, a supplier of electricity willing to communicate often with the electron filling machines or their masters, and drivers who will accept a bossy electronic nanny in their car. More such islands exist in the world than one might first guess.
Continue reading →