Privacy In The United States – Or The Total Lack Thereof

Last week I wrote Censorship In The United States – WARNING – Avoid U.S. Hosting And TLDs. My concern was simple – that too many of us use United States hosting companies and United States Top Level Domains. This is natural – the internet is after all an outgrowth of a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency project to develop a communications system that was capable of surviving a nuclear war. The problem as I saw it, was that the United States, which was once a beacon of freedom and democracy, has become an Oligarchy.

That was my only concern. Oh, I also made the point that if your site was hosted in your home country, using your own country’s Top Level Domain, and there were problems, it would be far less expensive to fight, because things would be local to you.

And then today, well, let’s just say that the polar bear excrement has hit the rotary oscillator.

You shouldn’t have ANYTHING on American servers. Anything.

Today we found out that the Department of Justice is conducting a secret investigation (you can download the document in PDF format here). One of the targets of that investigation is a member of the Icelandic Parliament, Birgitta Jónsdóttir, and the only reason she is aware that Twitter was served the subpoena, is that Twitter actually had the guts to argue the subpoena in court, and get permission from the judge to tell her about it!

Birgitta is rather upset as you can tell from her Twitter stream. She has decided to fight the subpoena.

There is a major point that which broke the story, Birgitta, and everyone else seems to be missing.

If the United States is willing to try to get your information secretly, do you really want to have your information on servers that the United States Government can get access too?

Think about it. You may have written something innocent. But, what you may think is innocent, the U.S. Government may decide is evidence of terrorist intent. And they may go after you.

My advice?

The American Government is paranoid. It doesn’t matter whether they have reason to be paranoid or not, they are. When dealing with a paranoiac, you have to consider your situation. Do you really want them to be able to access your information?

Think about it. Remember Maher Arar. To quote his Wikipedia entry:

Maher Arar (Arabic: ماهر عرار) (born 1970) is a telecommunications engineer with dual Syrian and Canadian citizenship who resides in Canada. His story is one of the most famous cases of extraordinary rendition in recent times.[1][2][3][4]

Arar was detained during a layover at John F. Kennedy International Airport in September 2002 on his way home to Canada from a family vacation in Tunis. He was held without charges in solitary confinement in the United States for nearly two weeks, questioned, and denied meaningful access to a lawyer. The US government suspected him of being a member of Al Qaeda and deported him, not to Canada, his current home, but to his native Syria, even though its government is known to use torture.[5] He was detained in Syria for almost a year, during which time he was tortured, according to the findings of a commission of inquiry ordered by the Canadian government, until his release to Canada.[6] That commission publicly cleared Arar of any links to terrorism, and the government of Canada later settled out of court with Arar and awarded him a C$10.5 million settlement.[7] The Syrian government reports it knows of no links of Arar to terrorism.[citation needed]

Despite the Canadian court ruling, the United States government has not exonerated Arar and, on the contrary, has made public statements to state their belief that Arar is affiliated with members of organizations they describe as terrorist. As of February 2009, Arar and his family remain on a watchlist. His US lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights are currently pursuing his case, Arar v. Ashcroft, which seeks compensatory damages on Arar’s behalf and also a declaration that the actions of the US government were illegal and violated his constitutional, civil, and international human rights.

If, after reading this, you trust the United States, or any other government, I have some ocean front condos I’d like to sell you in Regina…

Seriously though – do you really need to use Facebook or Twitter? And if you need to use something like Facebook or Twitter, why don’t you start an equivalent up in your own country. Something like using the StatusNet software (which is AGPL licensed)?

Because if your data is in another country, do you control it? Or do they?


Wayne Borean

Saturday January 8, 2011


4 thoughts on “Privacy In The United States – Or The Total Lack Thereof

  1. You are right, and there is more. See for example the discussion about what’s happening with non-US businesses which trade or sell services in/with Cuba and is using Gandi’s DNS- or CPU-services, now when Gandi has opened a data center in the US:

    “In the US, a “National Security letter” can forbid the recpient for disclosing to anyone that they have received an NSL. So neither the public, Gandi customers, nor even Gandi (France) knows whether Gandi US has already received NSL’s for data about us. Once you have a US presence, your “track record” or how you have responded becomes unknown and can no longer be “proved to be reliable”.”

    “But the issue isn’t just access to our personal details, but which court would have jurisdiction over Gandi to, for example, order you to shut off a domain (either at the hosting or DNS or registry level). OFAC’s enforcement methods include administratively seizing property (now potentially including Gandi’s US assets). You could go to (US) court to try to get the propertry released, but in OFAC’s process that happens *after* it has been seized (and of course in US court). They don’t need a court order *before* it is seized.”

    There’s a lot of interesting stuff in that thread.

    1. Exactly – the only way to be safe, is to avoid all dealings with the United States. Now I have no doubt that the courts would straighten things out in time (the American courts do tend to be independent), however you could be bankrupt well before this happens.

      So if you aren’t an American citizen, moving things out of the USA is your best option in my opinion.


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