The Investigatory Powers Act 2016, also known as the Snooper’s Charter, went into force on December 30th, 2016, supported by both major UK political parties. The state, including the Metropolitan Police, the Home Office and the Department of Work and Pensions can now gain access, without a warrant, to the record of all the websites you visit (browsing history) from your Internet Service Provider. NSA whistle-blower Ed Snowden calls it “the most intrusive and least accountable surveillance regime in the West”. Jim Killock from the Open Rights Group says “it is the most extreme surveillance law ever passed in a democracy.”
Even before the Snooper’s Charter was passed, corporations were already doing the state’s dirty work by collecting data on their unsuspecting users and handing it over to the authorities on request. Thankfully, the hard work of some very tech savvy people means there is a lot we can do to protect ourselves. None of this requires you to be tech savvy yourself, and none of it will hurt your productivity online. In fact, once you have followed the steps below you can use the internet just as you do now, but without big brother looking over your shoulder.
Step One: Browser
Use Firefox on your phone, tablet and laptop/desktop:
Install the ‘uBlock Origin’ add on in Firefox:
Install the ‘Privacy Badger’ addon in Firefox:
Install the ‘HTTPS Everywhere’ add on in Firefox:
Unlike Google’s Chrome, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer or Apple’s Safari, Firefox is developed by a not-for-profit foundation and respects your privacy. These three ‘add ons’ to Firefox improve your browser’s security by blocking ads, preventing websites from tracking where you go after you leave their site, and by forcing your browser to use HTTPSecure instead of the standard HTTP. Once you have installed Firefox and the three addons, make sure to use Firefox as your default browser.
Step Two: VPN
A VPN is a service to hide your location. You should use a VPN on your phone, tablet and laptop/desktop. For less than a fiver a month a VPN will hide all your traffic from your Internet Service Provider (BT, Sky, Vodaphone etc). This works by routing your internet use through a third party, so instead of your service provider seeing a list of all the different websites your computer/phone has connected to, they only see you connecting to the third party server. VPN servers are usually hosted in countries with less oppressive communications laws than the UK and US.
A good VPN provider will give you step by step instructions on how to get the VPN working on all your devices and should take no more than five minutes to be up and running. If you can’t follow the provider’s instructions on their website, go with another provider.
If you don’t want to pay for a VPN, Tor is a free way of hiding your traffic. It works in a similar way to a VPN, but instead of routing your internet use through one big server abroad, it routes your traffic through many small servers all over the world, making it impossible to trace back to you. One caveat: Tor will only work (by default) when using the Tor browser, which does not have all the features of Firefox. Websites may also load slower with Tor than they would with a VPN.
Use Tor on your laptop/desktop:
Use Orbot and Orfox on your Android phone and tablet:
Use Onion Browser on your iOS phone and tablet (limited functionality at present):
Step Three: Search Engine
Use ‘Startpage’ search engine instead of Google on all your devices. Make it Firefox’s default search engine:
To make it your default search engine, look for ‘options’ or ‘settings’ in the top right of your Firefox browser window, then click ‘search’ and look for ‘Startpage HTTPS’.
Why not just use Google? Because Google collects data on you every time you search for something. “You might like these so-called free services [Google and Facebook], but we don’t think they’re worth having your email or your search history or now even your family photos data-mined and sold off for god knows
what advertising purpose”, said Apple CEO Tim Cook.
Ironically, Apple also collect huge amounts of data on their users. Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft are all guilty of selling out the people who use their services and should not be trusted with ANY of your personal information, especially not records of your internet use.
The above steps are the bare minimum we should all be doing. Tell your friends.