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Planting your electronic flag

We all know that Google is in bed with the government… I suppose it’s nice that CEO Eric Schmidt is at least open about it.

In a recent interview with CNBC, Schmidt effectively admits that Google archives everything about a user– web searches (google), email and contact lists (gmail), online office documents (google docs), photographs (picasa), text and voice messages (google voice), and even a user’s current location (google maps).

The depth of this information is a bureaucrat’s fantasy, and as Schmidt indicates, Google is obliged to hand it over.

Google is obviously very convenient; its features are powerful and can make life very easy… it’s really unfortunate, however, that they are subject to the oversight of an increasingly intrusive and corrupt government.

This is simply a choice that you as a user have to make– privacy over convenience. If you fall in the ‘nothing to hide, nothing to fear’ camp, giving the government access to your entire electronic life may be perfectly acceptable.

For the rest of us, there are great solutions that provide a lot of conveniences.

I’ve discussed electronic privacy in the past and promised to give you a list of countries that don’t snoop on phone and email conversations. You can obviously scratch off most of North America and Europe, but there are still countries that respect individuals’ privacy.

The folks at Cryptohippie were kind enough to do the heavy lifting for me, ranking 52 major countries on issues such as constitutional protection of privacy, data retention, ‘loose’ warrants, financial tracking, and likelihood of data inspection at border checkpoints.

You can download the full report here.

Although their list is definitely incomplete and needs updating, I generally agree with their rankings.  Sweden and Thailand, which have strong elements of electronic snooping, need to be moved higher up the list.

According to CryptoHippie, the top 10 electronic police states include North Korea, China, Belarus, Russia, UK, France, Germany, and of course, the United States.

From my assessment, countries that respect electronic privacy include Panama, Costa Rica, most developed Caribbean nations like the Bahamas, Brazil, the Philippines, and Switzerland.   

One email provider you may want to consider is Australia-based Fastmail. As the name suggests, the technology is incredibly fast, and contains some of the most customizable features I have ever seen. For example, you can set a ‘distress’ password that, when typed in, will lock down your email account for a defined period of time.

Best of all, while Australia is a ‘middle of the road’ electronic police state, the Fastmail founders have taken on a multiple flags approach, basing their primary and backup servers in different countries outside of Australia.

If you have your own domain for email, e.g. yourname@yourdomain.com, you can easily change your domain’s setting to point your email servers to Fastmail. You will never notice a difference in service and can rest a bit easier knowing your email archives aren’t feeding bureaucrats.

I think it’s a sharp idea for anyone who takes privacy seriously to plant an ‘electronic flag’ somewhere other than his country of residence. In terms of living a more free, multiple flag lifestyle, it’s definitely the easiest, most cost effective thing you can do.

Our goal is simple: To help you achieve personal liberty and financial prosperity no matter what happens.

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About the author: Simon Black is an international investor, entrepreneur, permanent traveler, free man, and founder of Sovereign Man. His free daily e-letter and crash course is about using the experiences from his life and travels to help you achieve more freedom.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Anita

    I love your daily newsletters, they are educational and inspiring, thanx for sharing your info with us..if you’re ever looking for assistants or anything..e-mail me, I would love to work for you and be able to learn from you! Cheers, Anita

  • Hans Desjarlais

    Hello Simon,

    I really appreciate your blog posts. VERY interesting. I was wondering if you could do an article on how North Americans (USA & Canada) could properly set up a offshore corporation for asset protection or privacy? Maybe just use your experiance? Since we must (I am Canadian) report our worldy earnings and declare if we control or own a foreign corporation, how do we go about it safetly and intelligently? I have heard a lot of stories and have done research myself but I would like to get the details from someone who has actually done it.

    Have a good day!


  • Nick

    Hi Simon,
    I went to Fastmail and read this on their web site:
    “Our main servers are located at NYI in New York City, USA.”

    Do you know of a way to have your mail box located in one of their “non main” servers?


  • Don


    Thank you for a wonderful article. If I may, I’d like to toot my own horn, as it were, and share with others what things I do to help minimize my “electronic footprint.”

    I should mention at the outset that I do computer repair on the side and am constantly amazed at how folks click here and there with (apparently) nary a thought as to the epaper trail they’re leaving in addition to the obvious electronic elements that sites such as Google cull and share. So I USED to advise people about the importance of at least considering personal privacy when going to this and that site (it seemed to me that few if any people really were concerned..so I stopped). Certainly Google has (sadly) done an excellent job at bringing so many users to their various sites (mail, docs, etc.) without those folks giving much more than a second of thought as to what it means to have the biggest and most popular search engine maintaining their various pieces of information. And let’s not even talk about where “cloud computing” will take us AND what role Google, Microsoft, Facebook and other major computer/internet players will have. Suffice it to say that I work hard to ensure I’m not one of those participants.

    To that end I use a VPN the vast majority of the time online. My connections come from all over: Hong Kong, Seattle, London, Dallas, etc. I love the service I use and highly recommend it to others. (If someone wants specifics, please feel free to contact me at ukskeeter@fastmail.co.uk.) Also, I use a search engine that (purportedly) does not archive searches, do geo-location and the rest that Google does. It does none of that while using Google as the search engine. (Once more, others are free to contact me if they’re interested in what site I use.) Again, I’m doing my little part to spit in the face of the all-seeing Google and “Big Brother” by denying them as much of my personal information as I reasonably can. After all, it’s none of their business AND not because I have something to hide.

    In addition to the e-mail service provided by Fastmail (which, as you can see, is the e-mail provider I’m using here), I also use the following: Lavabit.com and VFEmail.net (users can select their “domain name”; pretty cool).

    All in all there are numerous options for those of us who try to “fly under the radar,” as it were.

    Thanks again for your newsletter, Simon, and I hope my comments may have been helpful to others. I look forward to other postings and future issues of your newsletter.


    P.S. I would list my website, but that would defeat the purpose of staying anonymous here. But I am wondering if others who do have websites would comment on who they use that will allow the registrar information to not point to the actual bill payer. In my case I use BlueHost (with whom I’m very happy). And when I first signed up they had this privacy thing going for them so that my name and contact information was hidden. That’s no longer the case. It’s not really an issue with this one website, but I’d like to keep the registrar information hidden if and when I get another website. Thanks.


      Beware of lavabit.com since this is their stance toward what it takes for them to cave in. As you can see below they will give into the courts in the USSA which are no longer under the control of the constitution. It is better to choose an email provider which is not under the laws of the USSA.

      Privacy Policy of Lavabit below

      “Lavabit adamantly protects the privacy of its users. Lavabit will only release private information if legally compelled by the courts in accordance with the United States Constitution.”

  • Bern

    Simon- Looks like FM has a primary in NY and backup in Norway. I assume that the government would realisticallly have to get FM in Australia to open up the server in NY in order to have them turn over the emails?

    Hey, either way, anything sensitive should either be crypted (like you’re PGP article last month) or not emailed at all. I like FM becasue it’s much faster than gMail and the ozzies can’t shut you down when some judge in Delaware wants to freeze your account.

    i like the fact too that they have email aliases, and you can outright reject certaine mails.

    i think w the ‘distress password,’ you mean the one-time use password on the site: http://fastmail.fm/help/features_alternative_logins.html

    “One-time passwords

    Generates a list of passwords for you to print out, where each password on the list can only be used to login once “

  • Rick

    I notice you are located in Panama. Do you have any reccommendations for setting up a web site offshore?

    My service has expired and I am searching for a site offshore that will allow me to sell space and manage it.

    Do you have any suggestions?

  • Marquelle
  • Marquelle

    And if Simon likes Australia (#18) and Switzerland (#30), then Canada at #29 can’t be too bad, with the added bonus of being the lowest ranking ECHELON member.

  • Ted

    Seems like Fastmail’s servers are in New York. Maybe that’s relatively safe if you’re Australian, but I doubt many Americans would trust it.
    Is there any such service in safe places like Panama?

  • Bob

    I stopped using Google months ago for my searches. I now use:


    Its secure.

    Its free.

    and its private (they don’t log yout IP).

    • adriatic

      ixquick.com is also known as startpage.com – also http://www.scroogle.org – i am trying both, so stay tuned…

  • Don

    Just a follow-up to my previous post.

    Several have written me privately, asking about the VPN service and privacy-oriented search engine I use. Although no one has come out and asked, I want to be clear that I am neither employed by nor have any financial (or other) interest whatsoever in the recommendations I offer. I make them because I use them myself, finding that they accomplish for me what it is I want, and so I can (and do) heartily recommend them to my friends and family.

    Thank you.

  • Adminus Diabolus

    Planting the electronic flag is not only a question of how nosy a place is. North Korea is nosy only if you want to overthrow Kim, Germany is nosy if you are denying the holocaust or embezzle taxes…so, if you want to overthrow NK’s Kim you are perfectly well located in Germany. And if you think the Holocaust is a hoax go to NK or Iran with your web presence.

    If you want to peddle grass, do it from an electronic flag in the Netherlands, where it is perfectly legal.

    The quintessence is: Offshore is where you are not! And nosiness depends on your goals.


    • lrm

      This is what I have said in many other posts-it’s not about ‘which place do I go for the perfect freedom';it’s about what’s in it for you-creating options for yourself.
      The USA could be a GREAT place for a citizen of another country to set up a flag,b/c it’s not their only option,and there are lots of opportunities for them.

      So,yea,ppl seem used to thinking linear and also looking for a set solution to a one time problem.

      Rather,this is more like a journey or a game,with changes occuring all the time,and ever changing variables,too. And each individual is in fact a variable in her/her own game.

  • Don

    Not to belabor this issue but just today I came across this article (http://tinyurl.com/y96kbv4) which some may find interesting, especially considering earlier comments regarding Australia and privacy.

  • June

    Hi, I’m such a novice at this, that I don’t even know what a Website is. Please clue me in. I figure I am not very important, and who cares what my views are. Maybe that is naive. I’m such a open book, that I don’t care what anyone thinks of my views. Have to admitt I’m certainly concervative. If I do decide to change to another company, you’d have to tell me step by step what to do. From JUNE (83), a western woman!

  • June

    Moderation? What does that mean? So are you not going to print it? If NO, please explalin. THANKS!!! ~~~JUNE~~~~

  • Mark

    As a service veteran and patriotic person I don’ thave a lot of concern regarding the sharing of information to the government since there is such a huge underground population that is bent on destroying the United States as long as there is some specific reason and person under observation. I have incredible fear and concern that this current administration is publically and openly working to deny that there is an enemy amongst us. That American dignity, sovereignty, security, safety, and preservation is unimportant.

  • http://rauschenbach.us Möpsi

    I collected most of these concerns, and forwarded them along to the FastMail team, whom I have had dealings with in the past. Their response inspires my ongoing confidence, and I think I will stick with their service for now, unless something better comes along. In fact, if a weakness emerges in FastMail’s scheme, I will probably try and get them to address it, since they are easy to work with, and quick to respond, instead of shopping elsewhere.

    FastMail writes:
    – – – – –
    Although our servers are based in the US in a co-location facility, the
    actual servers are owned by the FastMail company, which is itself
    incorporated and based in Australia. None of the people at the
    co-location facility in the US have any login access to the servers, and
    thus cannot get any data off the servers. They just hold the servers,
    provide network connectivity and power to them.

    The net result of this is that a US subpoena is not enough to get data
    of a customer off one of the machines. Instead a warrant has to come
    from the appropriate legal authorities in Australia (based on the
    requirements in the Australian Telecommunications Act) to us before we
    can provide any information. The requirements for that are fairly

    There is a mutual assistance treaty between Australia and the US, and an official channel for US requests to go via Australian authorities to
    come to us, but it’s long and convoluted (via the FBI, the Australian
    Attorney General, the Australian Federal Police, and then us). This has
    been used in a few very rare cases, and I can tell you that in each case
    I’ve seen, not only is it legally justifiable, but I’ve felt it’s
    personally justifiable as well (eg child porn issues).

    As a company, we’re very concerned about privacy, and we are careful not to reveal any information from any accounts without the appropriate
    legal documentation. The fact that we’re an Australian company in most
    cases introduces cross jurisdictional issues, which adds an extra level
    of safety because at least two countries are then involved. More checks
    and balances!

    I hope this information is useful and helps you feel more at ease with
    the safety of your data.



  • Secure Laptop

    @Don: So called “Privacy Whois” services on domain contact info offers very little protection, especially as most are in the US (like the one to which Simon’s domain is registered?!). I stopped using them after one called RegisterFly went out of business and I actually lost some good domains because I had no way to prove they were mine.

    And I wouldn’t recommend using fake info, because that is considered justification for cancelling the domain.

    Most if not all hosting companies and domain registrars will happily accept an anonymous bearer share corp as the client. That solves your problem and still gives you full control.

  • rex

    I did not get the information about the second citizenship email ? i registered but did not get it?

  • http://rauschenbach.us Möpsi

    Related follow-up article in reference to Google’s Eric Schmidt’s comments on privacy: http://www.cio.com/article/510685/Google_s_Schmidt_Roasted_for_Privacy_Comments?page=1&taxonomyId=3089.

    Article includes this interesting tidbit: “authorities” requested whereabouts of Sprint customers 8 million times in one year.

  • domlanic

    So I’m not the only paranoid websurfer, then?? What a relief.

    Love your informative letters & wholeheartedly agree; Orwell may have got the date wrong & could not have known the media involved but otherwise was spot on. I do believe that soon enough the mental stresses generated in Joe Public by Big Government’s snooping will be recognised as a valid mental condition!

    Somewhat off-topic; a local doctor’s Lamborghini was taken for a spin at 70kph over the speed limit by his service mechanic. Police nicked him an impounded the car, fair enough. However, the lunatic law says the innocent doctor must wait 28 days & pay $500 to get it back.

    Australia’s police minister responded by stating “I will not make an exception for somebody who owns a Lamborghini”…. quite revealing of a small minded, envious excuse for a human being, I think. I repeat this story only to illustrate what use our elected officials choose to make of patently unfair laws and how we trust these b#*$*@s at our peril….

  • Robert Gillies

    I was interesting to read your opinion that Panama is a good country for electronic privacy since Panama is where I happen to live (I am an American). The do use Google quite a bit but I really can’t see how anyone could benefit by collecting information about me. If I was lucky enough to be wealthy then I suppose I could use my Panamanian wife to shelter some of my income but unfortunately I am not in that position. The number one benefit here is that you can live quite well on an income that in the USA would be somewhere around the poverty line. The other advantage is that we don’t have winter. I can’t see how it would benefit the government to collect information about large numbers of ordinary people who live ordinary lives. To me the information would be basically useless. My main interest is in tropical plants such as orchids and bromeliads which is not something that the government would have much interest. My only concern might be is that nobody could steal my credit card number if I ordered something from say amazon.com over the internet which I sometimes do. I do agree with you that people deserve their privacy. Retailers have always tried to acquire information in the hope of getting new customers. I remember that before before we had the internet if you subscribed to a gardening magazine then the next spring you would receive a lot of seed catalogs in your mailbox. That kind of thing never really bothered me. Since the internet is replacing mail then this kind of information gathering has moved to the internet. I think privacy problems start for some people if they get involved in some kind of fringe organization that is perceived as being anti-government. There are a lot of lunatic organizations in the world and the internet has contributed to their growth. Most are harmless but a few are dangerous. Most people have healthy interests and use the internet for a good purpose. There are always a few people who are really weird but fortunately most of them are weird in a harmless way. On the internet you find everything. Sometimes governments are oppressive and opposition groups make use of the internet. This also causes privacy issues. I have never been too interested in causes whether they be religious or political. I am too independent to become part of somebody else’s cause. I suppose privacy advocates are doing a good thing as we don’t want the government to evolve into a police state. Anyway this is my two cents for whatever it may be worth.

    • lrm

      I think you are reasonable in feeling that you personally have nothing to hide. I feel the same.
      I think the issue here,though,is similar to current ‘airport security measures’….the general public says ‘oh,if you dont want the full body scan,dont fly,b/c i care about our security’…

      First it was no water bottles,so we sucked it up and spend $4 on some lame a*s airport water that is worth 1/8 of that at best. Then no shoes,more pat downs,etc. Now,full body scans and you can opt out and get full pat down instead. And the introduction of the ‘idea’ of mind reading technology has been advertised on yahoo and google in the after-math.

      If people do not see what is ocurring here,I am not sure I can spell it out for you any better. It is SO obviously a mental war we are in here. Gradually,you accept ‘just this little infringement’,and in time,you will find yourself in a fish bowl. Frankly,to the people that are ‘I’m so patriotic’-perhaps it will always be a duality that cannot be bridged (ie,if I disagree with invasive technology,then I must be anti-US; but this mindset is a product of brainwashing for generations via schools not teaching us to think,and media instilling blind trust in govmt entities)…but for the rest of us:

      It’s simple. Using fasttmail or other devices,allows us to invest in companies that are providing an alternative network to the one I jsut described. When enough people are invested in this alternative,the comapnies thrive and continue to offer such services,and new companies proliferate. As well,new services for privacy will be born b/c the ‘demand’ for such services in the market will be seen. It’s a healthy balance to just blindly accepting what’s out there and given to us. Because what is given to us is given in small doses,designed to create a large scale denial of rights in the future. You can see it unfolding.

      So while I dont really care if the gvmt sees what I order on Amazon,and I don’t have but $20 in my Chase checking account as we speak,and coudl care less if anyone knows it,I know that supporting the momentum of these privacy alternatives IS key to my own life and future,or my child’s future,for we may one day want such safeguards; if they already exist,all the better.

      You might say it’s investing in ‘sovereign patriotism’.lol
      I want to defend and protect rights,and that includes my own rights,both now and in the future. It’s why it’s so key to support homeschooling,charter schools,private schools,even religious schools-
      the more choice,the better for all of us. Monopolies are never good for the long-haul. More choice allows for de-centralized states.

      So,I bring up the schools point to say that even if I am not personally interested or think a topic relates to me,it actually does. We should all care,but not in an emotionally reactive way. It’s more like voting for your own privacy by electing to support these companies (after researching them,of course.)

  • Robert Gillies

    The ideal thing is for people to be independent and use their own minds to judge ideas rather than just believing what they are told by others. Many people though like to join a cause so they feel they are part of something important. The problem is that some causes fall under the category of what you might call malignant software. Unfortunately those who are infected by this malignant software sometimes do such things as tie bombs to themselves for the purpose of causing destruction. Then the government steps in trying to spy on people in an effort to prevent such acts. In the process we lose some of our privacy. Of course governments just being jealous of their power in general pushes us in the direction of loss of privacy. If everybody could think for themselves the world would be better. Unfortunately many people are followers. Throughout history there have been many mass movements and causes such as Nazism in Germany or Communism in Russia. Now we have militant Islam. Such movements destroy the freedom of the individual in favor of the cause. The result can be total loss of privacy.

  • Jen

    Anyone know the details of Opera acquiring fastmail? Know anything about Opera.com?

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