Etienne Augé

But then, reality hits you in the face, and you discover that even in the Netherlands, and in a reputable university like Erasmus University, your privacy can also be invaded for the Greater Good.

Maybe your emails have already been analyzed by a team of forensic experts eager to catch a dirty whistleblower who had the audacity to denounce a case of plagiarism, so that this despicable snitch can be exposed and maybe punished in front of a vengeful crowd.

Or maybe you want to make sure that in the future your emails will not be analyzed by a team of forensic experts eager to catch a dirty whistleblower who had the audacity to denounce a case of plagiarism, so that this despicable snitch can be exposed and maybe punished in front of a vengeful crowd.

In any case, you feel innocent, but perhaps are guilty without knowing it, and you wish to protect yourself from the almighty Eye of the Beholder. The Netherlands  in 2019 feels more and more like Oceania in 1984 by Orwell, yet the good news is there are many ways to fight Big Brother before he becomes Huge Brother. How can you technically make sure that your EUR privacy is respected?

Be smart

First, you should be careful what you say in your emails. I am not saying you should become paranoid, but be careful about what you say when you say it and to whom, even IRL (In Real Life). During the coffee machine breaks, don’t brag about speaking to journalists, mention the weather which is strangely cold for the season. Even when you have alone time with your smartphone, be careful. We know now that Alexa by Amazon, or Siri by Apple, are listening to our conversations.

It might be harmless most of the time, but we live in an electronic age, and everything you say can, and will be used against you, even if you don’t feel guilty. For instance, don’t ask Siri “Was it ok to plagiarize 10 years ago”.

Oh, and that piece of Post-It you put on the webcam of your computer might block your camera, but it will not stop your microphone, nor prevent your smartphone from being hacked. Change your password often, and use a VPN when you can. And remember: social media are not social, and they for sure are no media. But they can be checked to be sure you are not a threat to the Social Order.

Be protected

Second, use well protected apps. I remember when Julian Assange started WikiLeaks, I sent an email from my Yahoo account to ask how I could support the initiative. In return, my account was blocked for 24 hours without explanation. That taught me a valuable lesson about not supporting this dangerous white-haired terrorist. Whistleblowers are not heroes today, and they have to use a combination of apps to be able to communicate safely without being investigated.

Telegram Messenger is a much safer version of Facebook Messenger and uses end-to-end encryption. For your emails, you might want to switch to ProtonMail, a more secure version of Google’s Gmail. ProtonMail was created by scientists from CERN, which stands for European Organization for Nuclear Research, an organization that definitely needs a high level of protection for its communication. Tutanota is another option, also with end-to-end encryption, two-factor authentication, and has an A+ SSL certificate. I’m not sure what that means, but it seems pretty secure. SCRYPTmail can also be useful to hide your real email address, as it offers disposable email addresses. Very handy if you don’t want to leave too many traces of your conversations.

Just be sure to use your employer’s email account only to communicate about work-related topics. Or use it to speak about the weather, which is still safe for now. And don’t ever use it to speak to journalists, even to explain that what you do as a scholar might be interesting to a general audience. Your EUR account is only to communicate with people in academia. So, make sure you always speak to a doctor, or worst case, to a PhD student.

Be aware

Third, check yourself. Have you noticed that when you google something, your facebook contains ads or articles related to your query on the search engine? A wise move would be to never google anything related to journalism on your EUR computer.

Yet, if you really must, use DuckDuckGo as it claims not to store any user data, IP addresses, or personal information. That way, no one can accuse you of reading newspapers, which can be a clear sign that you are considering speaking to a journalist.

Personally, I am partial to Qwant, which is easily downloaded to a smartphone. It is simple, powerful, and blocks ads and trackers. I have been using it for almost a year and like it very much, but then again since it is based in France, people might think I am biased. DuckDuckGo will do then, if you are scared the French government is onto you. Still, the French government will never investigate you if you are a journalist source.

If you want to check your digital footprint, follow the tutorial offered by the Internet Society. You might learn a thing or two about yourself, or your digital double. And see if one of you might be guilty.

Spanish Inquisition

I really miss the internet cafés of the 90s as they guaranteed a Pretty Good Privacy. Since they don’t exist anymore, let’s be smart by covering our traces, so that we do not become suspect of speaking to the press. Just be careful that by using the software mentioned above, you don’t become suspicious to people who might think you have something to hide, and try even harder to invade your not-so-safe-anymore place.

As the Monty Pythons famously said, “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition”. I guess that also goes for a team of forensic experts eager to catch a dirty whistleblower who had the audacity to denounce a case of plagiarism. Oh, by the way: it wasn’t me. But you can’t prove it.


Read more about personal privacy

Students like their privacy, until it gets inconvenient

The hack of the EUR website showed how risky it can be to share personal details on the…

Read 3 comments