Last summer the Federal Government subpoenaed the search records of at least the two largest search engines, Google and Yahoo. Yahoo complied with the subpoena and handed over the records. But Google refused.
As a result of Googles non-compliance, U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has asked a Federal Judge in San Jose, California to force Googles hand.
The way I figure, if I dont do anything that warrants the attention of law enforcement, I wont be a target of their investigation. But, Im sure that if an overzealous investigator looked hard enough at some of the thousands of keywords that I have entered into search engines over the last several years, they might interpret that differently.
Ive heard of way too many stories people getting caught up in government witch-hunts. And, I dont want to be one of those people.
So what is the Average Joe or Jane like you and I to do to ensure that we dont unintentionally become a target? How do we know what search terms might send up red flags to the U.S. Government?
The World Privacy Forum has several recommendations of how to protect yourself when using a search engine. The main tip that they give is to never search for terms that can easily be associated back to you. For instance, dont do a keyword search on your name with your social security number. But thats common sense. At least it should be.
I would add that certain keywords might send up some red flags. Doing searches on Al Queda, explosives, and popular tourists locations all in the same sitting probably wouldnt be wise.
Another tip the World Privacy Forum gives is to consider using an anonymizing tool or proxy server. Every computer connected to the Internet has a virtual and unique address. When you search for something on the Internet, whatever it is that you are seaching for can easily be traced back to your computers address. Anonymizing tools and proxy servers serve as a buffer between your computer and the Internet. They help mask your keyword searches from being traced back to your computers address.
The World Privacy Forum did suggest a few specific anonymizing tools and proxy servers. But I disagree with their recommendations. Their recommendations were all freeware and free services.
I steer clear of both and rarely recommend anything that is free. You get what you pay for. And your privacy is worth the money. All too often freeware is riddled with spyware and adware. In the end, most freeware does more harm than good.
If you are going to use an anonymizing service, buck up and pay for it. anonymizer.com has a very reasonable service for only $29.99 a year.
I also strongly suggest an industrial strength computer wiper. Just because you delete a file with the use of your delete button on your keyboard or your trash bin on your desktop, doesnt mean that its gone. In laymans terms, it is just puts on your hard drive in a place where you cant see it. But a savvy law enforcement agent or even a hacker knows exactly how and where to go on your computer to access it.
I use and recommend a product by Robin Hood Software called Evidence Eliminator. Its the only product that can completely eliminate all the stuff on your computer that you no longer want on your computer. Although its not free, it is a lot cheaper than hiring a lawyer to help you explain to the government about your Internet search habits.
Come to www.delete4good.com for more information about Proxify and Evidence Eliminator.
J. Barbour is a consultant for Weinman-Skaggs Consulting in Miami, FL. http://www.delete4good.com
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