Reset the Net
One year after Edward Snowden's first explosive revelations about NSA surveillance hit the web, the Internet is aflutter with rebellion. Sure, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill ostensibly designed to curb the agency's prying eyes in May, but it wound up being such a watered-down joke that civil liberty and tech groups withdrew their support despite the bill's end goal.
Today, Reddit, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union, Mozilla, Amnesty International, Boing Boing, and a slew of others have declared it to be Reset the Net day, on the eve of the anniversary of Snowden's first leak. This week, numerous high-profile technology companies have stepped up to give you more tools to fight back against unwanted surveillance, no matter who is doing the peeking. Here's a rundown of this week's privacy push, complete with a pack of programs you can use today to lock down your PC, phone, or tablet.
Secure your privacy with Reset the Net's help
The most actionable help comes from Reset the Net. The main page of the website asks you to sign a pledge demanding privacy, and while mere pledges aren't traditionally great engines of change, digging deeper into the site offers downright dandy assistance for the privacy-minded.
Prominent links to the Reset the Net Tumblr page explain how webmasters and app makers can implement encryption. More importantly for the everyday user, a Reset the Net Privacy Pack offers links and descriptions for all the security software you need to keep your phone, PC, Mac, Linux computer, and passwords safe from prying eyes.
Google embraces Gmail encryption
Earlier this week, Google announced plans to roll out an "End to End" Chrome extension, designed to bring encryption to Gmail by making the notoriously finicky OpenPGP protocol easy to use. End to End isn't quite available yet, but for now Google has opened the source code to developers—complete with an NSA-bashing Easter Egg—in order to squash bugs before the extension's general release. Encryption will make it harder, if not impossible, for Gmail to serve targeted ads, so this is a noble step from Google.
The company also released a "safermail" report designed to identify email providers that don't secure customer emails in any way—and that naming and shaming is already producing tangible results. Read on.
Comcast pledges to encrypt email sent to Gmail
Google's report showed that Comcast was one of the worst email privacy offenders: Less than one percent of the email it sends to Gmail servers is protected by encryption. The very day after the report went public, Comcast announced plans to work with Google to "plan to ramp up with Gmail in [the] next few weeks." Comcast is a major force on the Internet, and Gmail is one of the largest email providers around. Score one for privacy.
Comcast will announce more concrete details from the Messaging, Malware and Mobile Anti-Abuse Working Group meeting in Brussels next week.
Microsoft's legal chief unloads on Capitol Hill
Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith laid into the U.S. government with a blistering salvo* of demands for surveillance reform. Microsoft called for the U.S. to end bulk data collection; stop hacking into major data centers; recognize that U.S. search warrants don't extend beyond U.S. borders; overhaul the broken FISA court behind the secretive, one-sided NSA rulings; and increase transparency overall. None of the demands are new, really, but the tech industry agrees they're all vital needs.
*OK, blistering for a legal note from a major corporation.
Just one day out of many
The anniversary of Edward Snowden's NSA revelations is a natural rallying point for people concerned about the U.S. government's grab at swallowing up every bit of everyday communications, but it's still just one day. Technology companies have been pushing to end bulk surveillance on an almost weekly basis since Snowden's leaks came to light. Reform is a long haul, not a one-day event.
If you're worried about NSA surveillance and its future implications, contact your Senator or House Representative and let them know. Implement encryption if you run a website or app. And definitely, definitely use the security tools in the Reset the Net privacy pack to seize back control over your communications. Even ignoring the NSA, it'll help you against all sorts of digital baddies.