British Authors are in Trouble

December 1, 2016

The Investigatory Powers Bill has passed both houses of parliament in the United Kingdom and is expected to become law before the end of 2016.

This is bad news for British authors of mysteries, thrillers, and suspense novels if they use the web to conduct research.

Under the IP Bill, security services and police forces will be able to access communications data when it is needed to help their investigations. This means internet history data (Internet Connection Records, in official speak) will have to be stored for 12 months.

Communications service providers, which include everything from internet companies and messenger services to postal services, will have to store meta data about the communications made through their services.

In Britain, every website you visit as you research the plot for your next thriller will be logged by your ISP, specifically so the data will be available to law enforcement.  If you want to get the details of your murder and mayhem right without raising suspicion among the authorities, you really need the proxy feature of startpage.com.

Better yet, get started with Tor if you haven’t already.

 

 

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It’s okay, officer. I’m a writer (part 2).

March 7, 2016

Here’s my second post on how fiction writers can do research online without being tracked by the Man.  Last time, I shared my favorite private search engines, but now it’s time for the biggest hammer in the toolbox: Tor.

I use Tor a lot. Tor is… well, give this a try:

The people at the Tor Project describe it like this: “Tor is free software and an open network that helps you defend against traffic analysis, a form of network surveillance that threatens personal freedom and privacy, confidential business activities and relationships, and state security.”

If you’ve heard of Tor at all, you probably heard that criminals use it.  But actually, criminals don’t need Tor (because they’ve already hacked your wifi and stolen your identity, and surf the web masquerading as you).  Tor is for non-criminals who need anonymity online, like thriller writers researching how to kill people.  See “Media,” below?  That’s you, writer!

who-uses-tor

The software itself is called the Tor Browser Bundle, a modified version of the Mozilla Firefox browser.  You can download it for Windows or Mac (or for true badasses, Linux) right here.

There’s also Orbot and Orfox for your phone, so you can get your murder-and-mayhem research done on the road.

There’s not much learning curve to Tor. Just download and go. I’ll end this post with a scene from Sneakers that has nothing to do with Tor in any technical sense… except using Tor always reminds me of it:

“They got the satellite in Tokyo. These guys are good.”


It’s okay, officer. I’m a writer.

February 25, 2016

Here’s an issue that comes up all the time on Facebook and in my writer’s group. Question: How can I research online all the murder and mayhem I put in my stories without landing on some law-enforcement  watchlist?

I’ve done web searches on stuff that would curl your toes. If you write science fiction, mysteries, or thrillers, you need hard info on terrorist plots, hate groups, rogue states, weapons of mass destruction, end-of-the-world scenarios (and how to bring them about), not to mention blood spatter patterns, corpse decay rates, poisons and how to get them, explosives and how to get them, the sound of a Colt 1911, the kick of an AK-47, and how to whack someone with a bear trap or corn cob or whatever.

Luckily, I’m not just a writer. I’m also a privacy and free-speech advocate. I believe anyone on Earth should be free to use the internet anonymously, without being snooped on or persecuted by third parties.

Here are my favorite tools for searching and using the web safely:

Duckduckgo.com 

This is not an Asian fusion restaurant. This is a cool search engine… that’s NOT Google. Duckduckgo doesn’t keep logs, so searches you do there are not saved or stored. “We decided to make a bold move and not collect or share any of your personal information.” They describe their privacy policies in an outstanding tutorial here.

ddg_billboard2

Startpage.com

But what if you really want to do a Google search? If you can’t let go of Google, try Startpage: “When you search with Startpage, we remove all identifying information from your query and submit it anonymously to Google ourselves. We get the results and return them to you in total privacy.” Startpage is my all time favorite search engine — not just because they piggyback on Google, but because of their amazing proxy feature.

Startpage-proxy-drawn

Each search result on Startpage comes with a “Proxy” button. If you click it, the target website is accessed by Startpage’s web proxy, and the results are passed on to you. That means you can read the ATF’s website, for example, but the ATF never gets your IP address. They see Startpage as the visitor instead of you. Links on the proxied page are proxied as well (as long as they’re on the same domain), so you can surf all the ATF’s pages, and they will never know you were there.

I’ll also mention search.disconnect.me as the newest of my three favorites. It works like Startpage (without the awesome web proxy), but you can choose whether to piggyback on Google, Bing, or Yahoo.

Now you can unleash well-researched chaos in your fiction, without freaking out the authorities!  In my next post, I’ll show you Tor.