How Your Boss’ Prying Eyes Could Land You a Visit from the Feds
By Mark Nestmann • August 13, 2013
By some estimates, more than two-thirds of company-provided computers in the U.S. are monitored by employers. If you work for such a firm, every email you send, every cute and crazy cat video you watch on YouTube, and every Google search you make is tracked, catalogued, and archived somewhere in the system.
Sometimes, that can lead to unwanted consequences, as it did for New Yorkers Michelle Catalano and her husband a couple weeks ago: a visit from the Suffolk County, New York, "Joint Terrorism Task Force."
In her own words,
At about 9:00 am [on August 1], my husband, who happened to be home yesterday, was sitting in the living room with our two dogs when he heard a couple of cars pull up outside. He looked out the window and saw three black SUVs in front of our house; two at the curb in front and one pulled up behind my husband's Jeep in the driveway, as if to block him from leaving.
Six gentlemen in casual clothes emerged from the vehicles and spread out as they walked toward the house, two toward the backyard on one side, two on the other side, two toward the front door.
A million things went through my husband's head. None of which were right. He walked outside, and the men greeted him by flashing badges. He could see they all had guns holstered in their waistbands.
How would you feel if this happened to you? And, how would you react?
Catalano's husband did the only thing he could do that he felt would keep him alive long enough to survive the encounter. He invited the armed men, who identified themselves as members of a "Joint Terrorism Task Force," into their home.
Once inside the home, the visitors peppered Michele's husband with questions. Many of the questions centered around pressure cookers—the kitchen implement that, thanks to the recent Boston Marathon, we all know can be used to construct a crude bomb.
One of the visitors asked him if he had ever searched online for "pressure cookers." Being a clever sort, he reversed the question and asked the visitors if they had ever made such a search. Two of them admitted that they had.
We Do This 100 Times a Week
After looking through the home and questioning Catalano's husband for 45 minutes, the visitors left. But not before telling him that that they do this about 100 times a week. That's the activity of one joint terrorism task force in one county, out of 3,141 in the United States. Do the math... and you get a feeling for the scale of surveillance that takes place daily throughout our country.
So what caught the feds' attention in the first place?
As many employers do, the company routinely monitored the Internet activities of its employees. When it discovered that he had recently searched for information on pressure cookers and backpacks on his PC at work, they called police to report him as a possible terrorist suspect.
That's all it took to land him in hot water.
Protect Yourself in One Easy Step
Make no mistake: Everything you do can be monitored, and not just at work. Edward Snowden proved that millions of Americans (not to mention many millions more outside the country) are routinely watched by agencies like the CIA and NSA.
Think about that the next time you search for something potentially embarrassing or send an email "unsupportive" of the government.
But luckily, there is a way to protect yourself.
There's a remarkably simple way to make it virtually impossible for police, the NSA, or any other 3-letter agency to monitor your Google searches or online activities.
You go "dark." You make yourself invisible – at least when it comes to what you do from the privacy of your own computer screen.
All you need to do that is something called a "virtual private network," or VPN.
There are many VPN services available, but the one I personally use and highly recommend is called Cryptohippie, and specifically the "Road Warrior" program. It's ideal for someone like me who travels globally and needs secure communication wherever I go. But even if you don’t move beyond the dining room table, this software goes a long way to protecting yourself from the snoops.
I’ll spare you the (frankly) boring details about how it all works and what makes it the best in the business. You can learn more about them at their site: www.cryptohippie.com.
Or, better yet, I've arranged with Cryptohippie for our readers to get a one-week trial to the same service I use, completely free. You’ll find all the details right here.
I can promise you, it is well worth the 10-15 minutes you spend setting this up to avoid grilling from the Joint Terrorism Task Force... or something worse entirely.