What can I do about PRISM?

Now that the most powerful nation states of the world have been caught performing wholesale surveillance on us, their citizens, and have responded with a “so what?”, the question arises… what are we, the citizens caught in a surveillance society to do?

It seems to me there are five broad strategies:

1. Retreat

Leave the big cities. Stop using credit cards and mobile phones. Live off the land. Read only paper books. Send snail mail. Use cash. Deny your children education in and enjoyment of modern technology.

2. Ignore

Carry on your life as if PRISM did not exist. Suppress the inconvenient knowledge that you have acquired. Hope it’ll all be okay, since you will always toe the line of whatever establishment you happen to operate under. Leave your children uninformed about what’s going on, or just tell them “that’s normal, that’s how it’s always been”. Carry on using Facebook, surf the web while being logged into Yahoo!, Google or Hotmail, carry on syncing all your Apple iThings content to “the cloud”. Chat with your loved ones over Skype/Google Talk/FaceTime/WhatsApp/MSN/Facebook and all the other “freebie” services that are surveillance chambers. Have photos of your kids online.

3. Hide (with technical means)

Use Tor for surfing the web, PGP to encrypt your email, ZRTP to encrypt your voice/video calls, OTR to encrypt your chats, learn how to manage your keys securely, use secure operating systems like Qubes OS. This approach is inconvenient, difficult to do properly even for experts, network effects penalise you because others will not communicate with you in compatible (private) ways and therefore it will be difficult to communicate with them. Loathing by others because you’re visibly putting barriers between them and you. A losing battle, but buys you and (if you manage to convert them to your cause and if they are capable of following) your loved ones some privacy and decency, even though what you are practically doing is hiding.

4. Fight (within the system)

Become a member and donate as much as you can to organisations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF, US-focused), the Open Rights Group (UK-based), EDRI (Europe-focused) etc. Write to your politicians. Write to newspapers. Publish articles on your blog. Talk to your friends to raise awareness. Join demonstrations. Vote accordingly whenever you’re given the chance.

5. Fight (with all you’ve got – also known as civil disobedience)

“Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence.” Subvert the system in any (non-violent) way possible. Stop obeying the rules of a system that is immoral. Become as vocal as possible and follow your words with actions. No matter what the consequences to you personally, it’s worth it if we all fight together. Remember that “A minority is powerless while it conforms to the majority; it is not even a minority then; but it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole weight.”

Most people will want to do a combination of different elements of the above – although a clear strategy that balances pain to you with protection for your family is difficult to describe.