The government onslaught on individual media freedoms has been fast and furious. China and Iran have erected actual internet firewalls; western democracies have tried to build legal ones. America's Stop Online Piracy Act (Sopa) and the international Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (Acta) both risk strangling innovation and freedom in the name of enforcing copyright. Now, there's the US Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (Cispa), which – according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation – "effectively creates a 'cybersecurity' exemption to all existing laws". Meanwhile, the UK government has launched its unabashedly Orwellian bid to monitor online communications. (Not that law enforcement agencies necessarily rely on laws to tell them what they can't do.)
The corporate-backed government line is this: if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about. That is the logic of totalitarianism. Free citizens everywhere have a right to privacy and online security. With the huge fightbacks against Sopa and Acta, global citizens have shown that we have the power to protect internet freedom; but it's worthwhile taking individual steps as well.
The Guardian's Jack Schofield has put together a good basic list of ways to secure your private online communications (hat tip: Rawstory). He offers suggestions ranging from anonymous servers (hidemyass.com, anonymouse.org, Guardster, Proxify, IDzap and Megaproxy) to encrypted instant messaging (BitWiseIM or ProjectSCIM). Schofield's most basic advice is this:
In the end, the simplest way to increase your privacy and security is to restrict your internet use to sites and services that have SSL connections. These are already standard for banks and shopping sites, and are increasingly used for email and other purposes. You can recognise them by the s for secure in their https: addresses, and a padlock visible in the browser. The next step is to use the InPrivate, Incognito or Private Browsing feature of your web browser to use anonymous online services.