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Is there a way to search so the government can’t see what I’m doing?

I have Windows 7 in my computer and usually use Google to search the
internet. I use Mozilla Thunderbird for email. My provider is AT&T/Yahoo.
Now, that the government is requesting even more information about searches from
Google, is there an invisible way to search without the information potentially
being available to the federal government? I’ve never done anything illegal and
I’m not doing anything illegal now or contemplate doing anything illegal, but I
just believe that I have right to privacy unless the government has probable
cause to allow them to legally access my information.

In this excerpt from
Answercast #72
, I look at the ways that the government could track your
searches back to you on the chance that they would want to.

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Hiding your searches

So to be clear, my understanding is the government isn’t going to access
your information unless they believe they have probable cause. They’re not
running out looking at everybody’s information for the fun of it; they don’t
have the time – and as I’ve said, many, many times before, you and I as
individuals, we are simply not that interesting. We get interesting
when we start doing illegal things or suspicious things, and that’s when the
government (and potentially rightfully so) steps in and starts taking a
look.

That being said, the short answer to your question is probably no.

Online searching requires a service

The reason I say that is because – no matter how you search, you are using
the services of a third-party: be it Google or Bing or Yahoo’s search (which I
guess is Bing now anyway) or DuckDuckGo (which actually uses other search
engines behind the scenes).

All of that information about what you’re searching for and where you’re
coming from are logged by those services. And of course, if necessary, the
government can subpoena that information and get it from them.

Reduce your footprint

Now, you can minimize it. You can certainly do that.

One thing to make sure of (for example, if you use Google) is to make sure
that you’re not logged into your Google account when you do your searches.

Google may still however associate the searches with you (for example, if
you have ever logged into your Google account from that computer) because of
course, it’s keeping track of things like the IP address where requests come
from.

Hide your location

The other thing (again, depending on your level of paranoia)… the other
thing to do is to either:

  • Use an anonymization service (like Tor, I think would be one) which
    basically routes your request through other services and servers that actually
    hide your IP address (at the cost of being fairly slow);

  • Or go and use some other computer, maybe at a public library or something
    like that.

In general, in practice, it’s not something I worry about.

I agree with you; I don’t think the government has a reason to (or even has
the right) to be snooping around in my stuff unless they have as you say,
probable cause. But the fact is – I believe that they have enough work to do
looking for the people that actually are doing illegal things than to have
them worry about me.

So, those are the kinds of things.

I think that the practical reality (in terms of being able to use your
computer at home in a way that makes reasonable sense for you) is that it’s
rare that you would be able to do it in a way that isn’t somehow eventually
trackable back to you – should the government or law officials in general,
request information from the service providers (that you of necessity
will be using to do those searches.)

Next from Answercast 72 – “Will Outlook XP Work in Windows 8?”

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5 comments on “Is there a way to search so the government can’t see what I’m doing?”

  1. …. We get interesting when we start doing illegal things or suspicious things, …
    Very funny Leo. How can they know we are doing “illegal or suspicious things” if they do not spy on us?

    I would guess usually by the results of those things, or the accusations of others, rather than spying on everyone.

    Leo
    23-Nov-2012
    Reply
  2. Both DuckDuckGo and Startpage claim they do not log your IP.

    Which is very cool. And I hope it both is, and remains, accurate.

    Leo
    23-Nov-2012
    Reply
  3. Do I think there is spying going on? Absolutely. However, I’m with Leo. I don’t think we have to be paranoid about it, unless we have something to be paranoid about.

    “We get interesting when we start doing illegal things or suspicious things.” How would they know?

    I suspect that they have computers set up to “spy” but if you’re just doing a regular Google search, such as “how to fix a flat tire” or even certain medications that people keep spamming me to get me to buy, the computer just ignores it. Whereas if you start searching for illegal or other suspicious activities, the computer probably logs it. And enough of those things according to some kind of algorithm puts you into their attention.

    Reply
  4. Never underestimate the duplicity of those who have the power to snoop. Remember the IRS employees snooping through tax forms through the years. Then change the people to those whose “duty” it is to collect information, and who want the power to snoop without warrants. I don’t think I’m that interesting, but I have no doubt that certain words that I may put on the Net would provoke a closer examination of my life.

    Reply

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