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., 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.