Part of my work life in most weeks involves consulting phone calls. The majority of my clients are in the U.S. and Canada. Not surprisingly, many of my clients have questions for me about privacy. These questions are generally along three lines: 1.) Buying guns privately, 2.) buying land privately, and 3.) how to avoid paper trails on storage food purchases. In this essay, I will try to address all three of those topics, as well as a few related points. One of the key concepts herein is Going Analog. But first, I’ll mention completely dropping off the grid.
The Going Dark concept implies someone cutting off all normal contacts. This is often coincident with relocating in an attempt to disappear without a trace. This extreme in privacy is only required for someone in duress. That is, for instance, someone who is the target of a manhunt, for a criminal case witness who is at risk, someone evading an abusive ex-spouse, or someone who is fleeing creditors.
Details on fully Going Dark are included in several popular books, such as: How to Disappear: Erase Your Digital Footprint, Leave False Trails, And Vanish Without A Trace.
For most of the rest of us, simply lowering your profile is sufficient. The following are few suggestions:
The phrase “going analog” refers to limiting or eliminating all digital communications, for fear of tracking or or monitoring. The term was popularized in the ongoing television series Mr. Robot. Important Proviso: The preceding link to Mr. Robot requires some caution! Although this television series contains a great wealth of practical computing hacking and privacy tradecraft, it is marred by some unnecessary crudity and kinky fornication. So do not allow children to watch it. Keep your remote close at hand, ready to skip past the brief gratuitous sex scenes!
Most of privacy is just common sense. Keep your paper trail to a minimum. Don’t offer your name in transactions if you don’t have to. (Remember: Cash is King, and Cash is Private.)
In a recent comment to an Odd ‘n Sods column item, SurvivalBlog reader Charles K. offered some great advice on privacy. It is so succinct that I’m re-posting all of it:
My rules for security:
1: Don’t answer the phone unless you know who is calling. If I don’t recognize the number or Caller I don’t answer. If it’s important, they will leave a message. It’s amazing how few important calls I get.
2: If possible, don’t own a computer with a built in camera or microphone. Mine is 12 years old. It’s old, it’s a little slow, but it works. It’s the next one that’s going to be a big problem.
3: Use credit and debit cards as little as possible. In my case, I only use debit card at my bank branch ATM, and credit cards only on large purchases. Otherwise I only use cash.
4: I limit my online purchases to Amazon and on rare occasion Wal-Mart.
5: Disable Bluetooth and WiFi in your car. Then disable Bluetooth and WiFi on your phone. I don’t like that there is a built in microphone in the car, but without Bluetooth and WiFi, it should not be a problem. I don’t want to talk to my car and I don’t want my car talking to me.
6: I usually do not answer my front door, depending on who is there. The optical peephole is a wonderful invention.
7: Finally, know who you are talking to. Know them well. In my case I don’t talk to my nephews about my prepping. I love them dearly, like my own kids, (I don’t have any of my own) but they have really big mouths. They couldn’t keep a secret if their lives depended on it, and it might.
I concur with Charles!
Using Old School Typewriters
We need to assume that all e-mail is monitored and archived. This even includes encrypted e-mail. Instead of e-mails, consider sending old-fashioned hand-written or better yet typewritten letters and envelopes. It is legal to put the addressee’s mailing address in both the “To” and “From” blocks on the envelope, so do so.
For the greatest privacy–especially for letters to newspaper editors–use an electric typewriter. My favorite model is the now obsolete Correcting IBM Selectric II. I prefer these, because they have quick change 88-character “Typeballs” in 30+ different 10 point and 12 point fonts. It is notable that it is the type head that creates a typewriter’s unique “fingerprint.” By changing the typeball, you change the fingerprint.
Selectric typewriters, typeballs, and correcting ribbons are now available at very reasonable prices on eBay, Amazon, and through your local Craigslist. (IBM controlled 3/4s of the typewriter market in the 1970s and early 1980s. So there are huge numbers of perfectly serviceable machines out there!) I recently saw a set of 16 assorted typeballs sell on eBay for just over $20, postage paid! Technically, IBM Selectric typewriters are considered digital/analog, but their typewritten output is analog, and that is our goal.
Security Note: Keep in mind that the film ribbon cartridges for Selectric typewriters retain the exact sequence of letters typed, and that can be recovered, forensically. You can burn the used ribbon cartridges, but that makes a stinky mess. One trick that I learned in my ASA unit was at simply run the ribbon through a crosscut paper shredder. (It will spool out of the cartridge as the shredder runs. It gobbles up the film ribbon nicely.)
If type fingerprint anonymity is not a concern to you, then you might also consider buying a traditional manual typewriter. These are great for off-grid living. Just be sure that it is in very good working order and that spare ribbons are available, before you buy!
Buying Guns Privately
In about 35 of the 50 States, buying used guns privately is still possible. The balance of states have enacted so-called Universal Background Check laws. These laws effectively made private party sales illegal. Although most of these States exempt pre-1899 manufacture guns and blackpowder replicas from paperwork, the privacy door is otherwise now shut. If you are now living in one of these Universal Background Check States, then I recommend that you seriously consider voting with your feet, to move to a more gun friendly State.
One other option for some Universal Background Check states is building your own guns from 80% complete receivers.
If you live in State that still does allow private party sales, then you usually have several options. These include: Newspaper “For Sale” ads, GunBroker.com, AuctionArms.com, and of course gun shows. At gun shows, you will need to find non-licensed table holders who are there trading guns–typically upgrading their personal collections.
In Trusts We Trust
To convey land deeds privately, it is best to use a family trust. By using a trust, the names of the owners/occupants do not show up on the deed or tax rolls. Only the trust name is visible. So obviously, you should pick a fairly generic trust name that does not include your surname or location. A good example name would be “The Plains Trust.”
Switching to Cash
A key tactic in lowering your profile is minimizing your paper trail. Every time you use a credit or debit card, you are creating a fairly permanent record of your purchase. The obvious solution is using good-ol’ cash. If possible, you should make the purchases of any controversial books or gear face to face with cash, and don’t leave your name.
Many of the smaller storage food vendors are willing to accommodate cash customers, as long as the purchase is less than $10,000 worth of food, You simply call them and arrange an in-person payment and pick-up. Even companies that advertise: “We have no storefront operation” are usually willing to meet customers face to face for a “cash on the barrelhead” transaction. You just need to phone them to confirm they have that particular stock on hand, and schedule a date and time for the purchase.
In this brief essay, I’ve just scratched the surface on this topic. I’m really looking forward to blog reader comments, with additional suggestions and some “tips and tricks.” – JWR