privacy by default

Seeking a “Privacy-by-Default” World: How We Got Here and Steps You Can Take Right Now

Privacy-by-default.

Depending on who you talk to in 2022 America, privacy can mean wildly different things.

The worst take on this subject is, “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.” These people tend to see anything related to privacy, secrecy, or encryption as “bad” in an abstract sense. “What are you hiding?” they say. Suspicion and jealously are their default attitude. This strikes me as a symptom of the Nietzschean “tarantula” mindset.

The way I conduct myself in private is my own business. My friendships and associations are my business. If this is true, then surely my financial life is my own business as well. This is what privacy-by-default means. The normal, assumed position is one of being secure in my business, finances, communications, and so forth. What we have today is a “snooping-by-default” world.

The objection from the other side comes readily, using language they have been taught to recite by pundits and so-called journalists. “We have to ensure everyone is paying their fair share!” or even worse, “It’s the only way to stop the terrorists!

You already know what camp you are in, and I hope it’s clear where I stand, as well. But just to be sure: The government has as much right to your financial details as the newest tenant at an apartment across town: none whatsoever!

 

Origins of Government Financial Snooping

Have you wondered why and when the government got involved in this egregious violation of privacy?

It wasn’t terrorism, fascism, the Soviets, or the Nazis.

No, none of these “threats to national security” gave rise to snooping on everyone’s finances, even though they have surely been convenient excuses to expand this practice.

In fact, it’s all because of the Sixteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution:

“The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment amount the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.”

 

Yes, it’s the income tax.

This form of taxation has been with us since the Sixteenth Amendment was ratified in 1913. In just over 100 years, it has enabled more evil than it is possible to comprehend.

If you care to know, the Constitution also says this:

“No capitation, or other direct, Tax shall be laid, unless in Proportion to the Census or Enumeration herein before directed to be taken.”

That’s from the original document, prior to the amendment. Looking at these two quotations in tandem, it’s hard not to see some contradictions.

Direct and Indirect Taxation

Consider further these sections from Frank Choderov’s book, The Income Tax: Root of All Evil:

“Reinforcing the prohibition of a direct tax is the requirement that taxes shall be levied in proportion to the population. The meaning is clear: that in respect to the law all citizens are to be considered equal, as persons, and should be taxed accordingly; their possessions have nothing to do with their legal status.”

Before the Sixteenth Amendment, there was briefly an income tax to fund the Civil War. Choderov says this:

“In 1862, Lincoln instituted the first income-tax law in American history. The debate in Congress over this major change in our fiscal policy makes curious reading. It was tacitly agreed that the law was unconstitutional, because it was a direct tax.”

“There is no tax that can be more properly described as “direct” than an income tax.”

I hope this has briefly illustrated that there is at least something to the argument against the income tax, historically speaking. Morally, the case couldn’t be more clear. To learn more on this subject, I wholeheartedly recommend both Choderov’s The Income Tax: Root of All Evil, and G. Edward Griffin’s The Creature from Jekyll Island. The latter focuses on the Federal Reserve, which is in many ways a partner in crime to the income tax. (1913 marks the birth of the Federal Reserve, too!)

How Things Could Be

If all taxes were indirect, as was clearly intended when the country was founded, then there would be no need for the massive amount of bureaucracy surrounding what rules apply to your specific income. No IRS audits, paying someone else to file your taxes, stressing out for a month out of every year to file them yourself, complicated webs of deductions, credits, incentives, refunds, et cetera. None of this is necessary, even if you believe that we need a government with a budget like the one we have today. (Of course, without all of the personnel, equipment, and other resources dedicated just to the the income tax, an argument could be made that the government could be significantly smaller just by removing this form of taxation.)

But enough about the income tax for now.

We currently live in a country with the most massive spying apparatus ever conceived, and much of it is directed at American citizens. The CIA even funds social media. This is hardly a privacy-by-default world.

What do you do about it?

 

Steps You Can Take Right Now

Here is what I personally use and recommend, broken down into a few categories:

Communication

  • Signal, by Open Whisper Systems – This largely fills the need for text messages, media messages, group texts, phone calls, and video calls. Communication with other Signal users is end-to-end encrypted, and OWS does not store any records on their servers. You can text people who aren’t using Signal (without encryption,) but for calls both users need to have it installed. It’s free.
  • Brave Talk, by The Brave Authors – This is your replacement for Zoom! It does not require your guests to use the Brave browser, so it’s easy to implement. It’s free, but there is a subscription available with more features if you want them.
  • ProtonMail, by Proton Technologies – Stop using email providers that read all your emails! ProtonMail has servers in Switzerland—not the USA—and they have a zero-access policy, so it is impossible for the Proton team to see your emails. It’s free, but there is a subscription available with more storage and access to other features.

Smartphone

  • De-Googled Android Phone – Did you know that your Android phone checks your location data, even if you turn location settings off? This is one example of the Big Tech data-harvesting world we live in. You can get a drastically more private, transparent smartphone experience by using CalyxOS or GrapheneOS. I personally recommend CalyxOS, and I shop for mine here, (Note: this is a Telegram app link) though there are several other places you can buy a phone like this as well. There are even other operating systems, but from my research these are the best balance of usability and privacy. If you use an iPhone, that is outside of my expertise, but I encourage you to research the security of your data. Pricing varies depending on where you shop and what phone you get.

Using the Web

  • Brave Browser, by The Brave Authors – This should replace your default web browser. Do you like Google Chrome? Brave runs on Chromium, the same open source platform as Google Chrome. Your browser extensions will work fine. It’s free.
  • Brave Search, by The Brave Authors – This is the privacy-focused search engine from Brave. It’s free.
  • ProtonCalendar, by Proton Technologies – Just like your existing calendar service, but encrypted. Right now, this is only available to ProtonMail subscribers.
  • ProtonVPN, by Proton Technologies – VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) anonymize your web activity to an extent, by bouncing your web traffic through a server (or servers) in other locations. You can view content as though you are in a different country, which can allow you to bypass things like regional restrictions on streaming services and other websites. It’s also a simple way to drastically enhance your security when using a public wi-fi network. This is an incredibly limited description of what a VPN does. I’ll direct you here for a more complete explanation. It’s free, but there is a subscription with more features and faster speeds.

Photo Storage and Shraing

  • Ente, by Drizzle Technologies – This is a great privacy-by-default alternative to the “free” photo backup services offered by Amazon, Google, etc., that are really just harvesting data (location, facial recognition, etc.) from your images. You can set it to automatically backup images, and has a simple interface for both mobile and desktop. It’s free, but there are several subscription tiers based on your storage needs, as you will likely outgrow the free model very quickly.

Finances

 

This list is far from exhaustive. All of these recommendations are things that I use for enhancing my own personal and business privacy. Ultimately, your security is your responsibility. If we want to live in a privacy-by-default world, we have to lead by example. Withdrawing your consent (tacit or otherwise!) from systems that perpetrate evil is a critical first step.

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