Keeping Your Communications Private, by F.J.B.

In this age of continuing disregard for an individual’s privacy, it can be difficult to keep your communications private. Warrant-less phone taps, postal service mail tracking, RF scanners,  and random roadside searches will appear fairly tame once the strip-searches start at the mall. Of course, this is their goal but even non-government snoopers are out there scanning your ID, listening to your phone calls, and trying to hack into your email. Going somewhere? Who knows your schedule? Did someone overhear your plans? How can you know?

What has happened to our right to privacy? Many people today are so beaten by the system that they have clearly given up. I have heard some people comment that they have “nothing to hide”, and sometimes even welcome a search to prove it. They “don’t mind” giving up their rights. “Go ahead and listen to my phone calls. I have nothing to hide.” They sometimes question why you wouldn’t be willing to give up your rights. They will also most likely be the first ones in line for the free government shower program, too.

News, current events, family issues, reports of local happenings, detailed instructions, requests for aid; all these things and more may one day be kept from being reported by main stream methods.  Getting a message through several hands and ultimately delivered to your intended recipient will require trust and perhaps some old school methods. Some of these methods are discussed here, but I welcome comments and any ideas others may have.

Thumb Drives

On the high-tech side (from a low-tech guy) of privacy I have seen several products I think offer a higher level of security. Ironkey makes a flash memory “thumb” drive that near self destructs when someone other than intended tries to gain access to the info it holds. “The encryption chip self-destructs if an invasive attack is detected”.  Super Talent makes a flash drive dubbed the “Pico” that is so small it could be hidden almost anywhere on most anything.  The smallest flash drive could be hidden on a person or in a coat or even be delivered by homing pigeon. I have also seen a working, cigarette lighter/thumb drive that conjures up images of  trench coat-wearing strangers meeting at a train station in eastern Europe.  

Thumb drives can be used to relay private messages in several ways. The info can be encoded and transferred from laptop to laptop to its end user, or  the drive can be encrypted and delivered to the end user. They can be used as a “cyber dead-drop” by hiding and fixing them in relatively public places for multiple users to upload/download info to or from. A thumb drive set in mortar into a brick wall where someone with a laptop could conceivably plug-in, download the info, and continue on their way would be one such “cyber dead drop“.  All the time the thumb drive remains fixed in the wall. The internet has several very creative examples of thumb drive dead drops posted on Youtube. The greatest concern with using a thumb drive for private communications at dead drops would be infections from the “unknown” user.
The giveaway and ultimate end to all dead drops is “noticed activity” by an outsider. This would give the outsider the opportunity to download a virus to the thumb drive dead drop, effectively damaging everyone else

Hard Wired Field Phones

Anyone who has ever seen a surplus catalog knows what a military field telephone is. They are still available from many sources at reasonable prices. These phones were designed for military field operations and used between fixed or encamped bases. They were considered to be more secure than a regular phone system since the hard wire was point-to-point rather than through a switchboard where “others” might listen in. This is still the case. Your phone conversations, whether cellular or land-line-wired (or digital fiber optic), are readily listened to and easily monitored without your knowledge. Radio transmissions can be monitored as well. Having a secure phone from point-to-point is an excellent means to keep your communications private.

These field phones run off a dynamo and a battery and are also compatible with the old style Stromberg Carlson phones you find in antique shops. They will also work with fencing as the transmission wire! Few would suspect you had a private line to your neighbor or friends house if you used the existing fence wire or even just ran the phone wire in the fence. City dwellers have been know to run the direct phone wire through the sewer pipes as well. Some of these phones work with up to two miles of wire. We have several phones placed around the property at cabin locations to call guests to dinner or help take out the trash.

Dead Drops

Through the years, dead drops have been used with mixed results. The ultimate end to a specific dead drop comes when locals notice activity. With this in mind, a more remote dead drop might last longer.

Usually a sign is left for another to notice and know that there is something of interest at the dead drop. The sign could be a chalk mark on a post, an Irish flag flying in a garden, a potted plant moved to the other side of a porch or any number of unremarkable things commonly unnoticed.  The dead drop itself could be a hole in a tree, a hollowed out slat in a park bench, a cavity behind a loose brick in a warehouse or any other uncommonly known hiding place. It could also be a remote drop location such as a shallow hole dug 10 steps off a highway mile marker post. Some have used a 5 gallon pail with a screw top Gamma Seal Lid as a buried dead drop. Some are hidden in plain view in the middle of town and others are out on lonely roads.

Dead drops can be used for delivering messages or objects. They can also be used as a collective cache location for supplies. An excellent book that demonstrated the use of dead drops in difficult times is Treblinka by Chil Rajchman. In the book, several like-minded people knew of the dead drop’s location and borrowed items, as needed, from the dead drop, returning them clean, immediately after the use. In this way, a large group of people can gain the use of a very limited amount of tools, supplies or resources.

A series of dead drops can also be used to deliver messages and items great distances.

Coded Messages

Many books can be written about codes, ciphers and secret messages. Today, even with modern technology and a Captain Midnight Secret Decoder Ring some codes will never be broken. A relatively safe code system for private messages is one that uses a common book or books as a “key”. Make a list of five of your favorite books and then go out and buy two of each of them. Be sure the two-of-each are the same printing and edition. Double check them by randomly opening pages and seeing that the second book matches the first exactly. Number the books 1 to 5 on the inside of the back cover and give your friend one of the sets.  Boxed sets of books work well, too.

Hopefully all the words you expect to use in your message are contained within the 5 books you picked. Some of you may have to pick more technical books to get all the words you want included.

The message you send will look like a series of numbers that relate to the number of the book (1 through 5), the page the word is on, and the number of the word on that page.

Example: I find the word “safe” in book 2, page 37, and then I count the words on that page and find that “safe” is the 17th word on that page. The code would read: 2,37,17 for the word “safe”.  

This type of code system makes for short and to the point messages but certainly private communication between only those who have the key books.
The great thing about this code system is that everyone has books and you can use books by anyone you choose; Steven King, Tom Clancy or even James Wesley, Rawles.

[JWR Adds: To minimize the chance of having a book code broken, it is best to buy two copies of some obscure “remainder” novel from the bargain table at Barnes & Noble–not a best-selling book, or any book that is associate with an”cause”!]

Coded messages like this can also be sent by any method you choose including radio and phone after the SHTF.

This type of code system can also be employed by Mutual Assistance Groups (MAGs) when communication privacy is of utmost importance.

Keeping your communications private will prove to be more and more difficult as bureaucrats look for new ways to use the new and intrusive technology that continues to develop. Older, low-tech methods of communication may have to be used when privacy is your biggest concern.

A secure communications network is impossible without trustworthy and like-minded people. The greatest tool in private communication is a network of trustworthy people. Finding and developing such a network is not an easy task and will become much more difficult to do after an economic, political, or societal collapse. Whom do you trust?