Being Offline Won’t Stop the State from Tracking You

After Edward Snowden leaked the National Security Agency (NSA) documents that unveiled how vast its surveillance has become there were a lot of reactions. Some people decided they didn’t have anything to hide so the state’s spying wasn’t an issue, otherwise decided to pursue technologies that would allow them to keep private communications private, and others decided to go offline. Of the three reactions the last one was, by far, the most irrational. You don’t have to be online for the state to track you. As this article points out, there are other ways for the state to surveil you:

The people who have actually attempted to live without being tracked–most often due to a safety threat–will tell you that security cameras are just about everywhere, RFID tags seem to be in everything, and almost any movement results in becoming part of a database. “It’s basically impossible for you and I to decide, as of tomorrow, I’m going to remain off the radar and to survive for a month or 12 months,” says Gunter Ollmann, the CTO of security firm IOActive, who in his former work with law enforcement had several coworkers who dedicated themselves to remaining anonymous for the safety of their families. “The amount of prep work you have to do in order to stay off the radar involves years of investment leading up to that.”

People who believe themselves to be very clever will often brag about the fact that they use a burner phone (a pre-paid cellular phone you can buy in most convenience stores) that they bought with cash. In their mind this means that the phone isn’t tied to them in any way and that they are untrackable while using it. Most convenience stores have security cameras looking at every square inch of the store. Those cameras can have some fantastic optics that give crystal clear images (the days of grainy black and white video footage from security cameras is ending). Facial recognition software is frighteningly accurate (just post a picture of a friend’s face on Facebook sometime). The state can requisition surveillance video whenever it wants (assuming it doesn’t just collect all surveillance footage like it does with phone calls and e-mails). In addition to that, the NSA collects phone records. It doesn’t take much to look at the numbers you called and develop a social map that has a good chance of identifying you. Using a burner phone won’t keep you safe from Big Brother’s gaze.

Another major source of leaks when it comes to your personal information are your friends:

Friends can be an impediment to a life off the radar. For one, they probably think they’re doing you a favor when they invite you to a party using Evite, add you to LinkedIn or Facebook, or keep your information in a contact book that they sync with their computer.

But from your perspective, as someone trying to remain as untraceable as possible, they are selling you out. “Basically what they’ve done is uploaded all of my contact information and connected it to them,” Sell says.

This is the biggest one in my opinion. My family has given out my phone number and personal e-mail address to people even though I’ve told them numerous times that I didn’t want them to do that. Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean your friends and family are. Unless you’re willing to sever all ties with other people you’re trackable. You may not have a Facebook account but that won’t stop your friends from posting pictures of you and writing your name in the description.

Going offline won’t save you. It won’t even make tracking your more difficult. The only thing going offline does is prevent you from utilizing very powerful technology to your advantage.