Look, we know you are a law-abiding citizen, and like most people with common sense, you probably refrain from making jokes about bombs or terrorism at airports too. Unfortunately, common sense is no longer your best defense against unwanted contact with the legal system or government agencies.
What you need to get used to is the fact that in our modern age, the government and big corporations have the technology to listen in on every single one of your phone calls.
Let us spell out the problem. And if you feel more caution is warranted, then we have a solution for you.
A few years ago, a Canadian intelligence analyst revealed something shocking. Canadian and American intelligence agencies monitor the phone conversations of innocent citizens. Of course, after the recent revelations brought about by the NSA leaker Edward Snowden, it’s not surprising anymore. They’re supposed to be searching for terrorist threats, but too often they end up listening in on ordinary Americans.
The analyst told of one time he found a conversation transcript on his desk. It was of a woman telling a friend how angry she was that her son’s soccer team had lost a game. Over and over again, she claimed the team “bombed.” That was all it took for her conversation to be flagged for further review.
You don’t want to end up on a no-fly list if at all possible. So be aware of what you say on the phone!
Let us add something else: Be careful with how you use email. If you are on a board of directors, or are an employer, or are in any position of responsibility, never forget that your casual jokes or impolitic comments in day-to-day emails can be used against you in horrifying ways in a court of law.
Unguarded Humor or Disclosures
in Email Communications
Can Be the Kiss of Death in a Legal Dispute
Unkind references to co-workers, subordinates, and other third parties can easily be caught up in a subpoena. If you have innocently communicated with someone embroiled in a lawsuit with another party, one of your badly-worded emails might well land you in hot water as well.
Conduct your email communications as though you expect them to end up in the press or a court of law – or to be forwarded to those who are not your friends. References that imply breaking or bending the law or mild racial or sexist comments taken out of context can invite trouble. Especially if you make such comments from an employer-owned computer. (In fact, many companies have electronic communications policies that make it clear that your emails are not private and may be proactively monitored.)
The Phone is No Longer a Place
for Private Conversations
Back to cell phones, casual references to terrorism might even put you on a government watch list.
In the course of our phone conversations, who knows how many times we might say the word “bomb” or “big event” or “weapons.” For shadowy government operations like the National Security Agency – and their corporate puppets like AT&T – that’s all that’s needed for someone to start listening in.
If you want your chats on the phone to stay private, make sure you think before you speak. Avoid using “buzzwords” that could land your transcript on an analyst’s desk. Don’t make vague or specific threats. If you need to ensure your absolute privacy, either speak with your contact in person, or use coded language to make your points.
Your Cell Phone Is a Gateway for Eavesdroppers
Cell phones are far worse than land lines for keeping your information private. The government can tap your conversations just as easily as with a regular phone. But even worse, your cell phone constantly emits a signal, even when powered off, which is picked up by satellites. This signal can be triangulated by snoops and government agents and used to determine your physical location!
There’s only one surefire way to make sure this doesn’t happen: Take the battery out of your cell phone when you don’t wish to be tracked. This can be done easily with most phones by removing the back cover and detaching the battery. With iPhones, this process is trickier, and you’ll need a tiny screwdriver.
Here’s a final tip: Make sure you shut off Location Services, usually on the Settings menu of your phone. This intrusive feature lets third parties – usually companies trying to sell you something – access your location. Deactivate it immediately.