Protect Your Privacy, Ditch Mainstream Email

I’m still shocked by the complacency of many Americans regarding government violation of their privacy. It’s been known for years now that mainstream email services such as Gmail are a backdoor for the NSA to your personal communications. And yet these services are still used by the majority of Americans. Gmail especially.

The Cybersecurity Information Security Act – or CISA – was signed into law on December 18, 2015. This law facilitates corporate information sharing of user information – email content, password, IP addresses, and more – with the government. This act just eases the barriers and adds to the data already being collected by the government as revealed by the Snowden leaks. Because this information is willingly given to the government by these companies, the government can query it without a warrant. Most alarming of all – all evidence of this information sharing between is exempt from FOIA and any other state or local laws.

PRISM_Collection_Details
Slide from the Snowden leaks showing providers that NSA collects data from as part of the PRISM program
What this amounts to is a big fat violation of your Fourth Amendment right. The government can search all of your email information without a warrant. Most people don’t care because they’re not doing anything wrong. But that’s not the point! Your Constitutional rights are being violated, but society has just come to accept that.

So what can you do? Ditch mainstream email.

First, sign up for a secure alternative. I’ve listed a couple for you here:

  • ProtonMail: Switzerland-based email service that stores your data encrypted on their servers using OpenPGP. You can also email non-ProtonMail users with encrypted messages, but not by default. Switzerland notoriously supports individual privacy and cares not for the needs of foreign law enforcement. Free accounts allow 500 MB of storage. Bonus – it is accessible through Tor.
  • Tutanota: Germany-based email service that also stores your data encrypted on their servers using AES and RSA. Being in Germany, it is subject to EU law. Also, German intelligence are known collaborators with American intelligence. Riskier than Protonmail, but better than mainstream. Free accounts allow 1 GB of storage.

While any emails you have with mainstream email users will still be read by the government from their end, at least you’re not storing all of your data there.

Second, completely ditch your previous mainstream email account. Export or download all of your previous email content then delete it from the inbox. You can read how to export your Gmail data here. Then, completely close your account. Read how to delete your Google account here.  Make sure you inform all your contacts of the change. If you’re willing to wait a little while before closing the account, you can use a vacation auto-responder that notifies others about your new email address. 

While your pre-ditch data is invariably still stored on NSA servers, you’re at least sending a strong message to the mainstream email provider that you’ve had enough. The more users that take this approach, the more American companies will hopefully begin to value privacy. What are you waiting for? Ditch now!

10 thoughts on “Protect Your Privacy, Ditch Mainstream Email

  1. Unless everyone you communicate with is ALSO on a private email server, and using PGP to encrypt all emails with you, then the NSA will still get all your emails.

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  2. There’s also https://sealmail.net/, which gives you 20GB for $10/month, You literally get your own mail server. A private SSH key is emailed to your address once you setup your account in your email account, allowing you to SSH into the server and reset your password if your account ever gets hacked.

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      1. To you at your mailbox that you just created on your own private mail server. You download it to your machine and delete the email immediately. It is sent to you via an encrypted IMAP connection.

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  3. This is fairly common advice and on the surface – it seems sound. Everything we do is being tracked – stop participating. But it’s just not that easy. Opting out of email? Opting out of Google services (maps, photos, social)? And while the author did not mention Facebook – the same logic applies.

    Cutting yourself off from these things means (often, for many people) cutting yourself off from your friends, family, and coworkers. It’s not always reasonable.

    This is an immense problem – that probably needs to be attacked from many directions….and it’s possible it’s just simply too late to fix it.

    But it’s not reasonable advice (for many people) to say – just don’t participate…

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    1. Gary, I can say I’ve cut my self off from social media outlets and Google services and I don’t feel cut off from friends and family. I actually find it very liberating not to know what’s going on in people’s lives passively through FB but actually having to call and meet up with them. If anything, it’s brought me closer to those people. As for Google maps – I’m doing just fine navigating the world with alternatives. Haven’t gotten lost yet! It’s just a matter of taking that bold step. Once you do you’ll find yourself just fine without those services.

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