April 3, 2012
You already know how to keep messages private: you just encrypt the contents using a password. But although this kind of technology has been freely available to PC users since Phil Zimmermann launched PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) in 1991, hardly anyone uses it. The benefits of email and online messaging are that they are fast and relatively frictionless – you don’t need to address an envelope, find a stamp, walk to a post box and so on – and encryption becomes an annoyance.
The problem with the latest government attempts at snooping is that they are not concerned with the content of messages, but their existence. If you have found some suspected criminals or terrorists, then you will want to know who their friends are: the people they email or message most frequently. Each of these people can probably be identified by their internet protocol (IP) address: the number assigned by their ISP (internet service provider). Even an encrypted email will usually include the addresses of the sender and the recipient in its headers.
The general solution to privacy concerns is to use a non-UK “proxy server” to relay web pages, messages, anonymous email accounts and other content anonymously. Hackers who really want to hide their origins will use several proxy servers, including ones that are acting as proxies without their owner’s knowledge. Many websites publish lists of free proxy servers, which are updated continuously.
Of course, these servers may offer less privacy than your ISP, and some may be traps or “honeypots”. However, there are some trusted anonymous servers available either free or for modest payments.