Freedom and Privacy Roundup – March 4, 2011

Welcome to the March 4, 2011 edition of freedom and privacy roundup.

Political

Jay Smith presents 20 Powerful TED Talks for Political Minds | Bachelor's Degree posted at Bachelor's Degree.

Jay Smith presents 11 Fictional Presidents We Wish Were Real posted at Online University Reviews.

Gary Voysey presents Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Tse Tse Fly posted at Ramblings and other savageries, saying, "1891; genaesd"

Wenchypoo presents Bailout Boomerangs posted at Wisdom From Wenchypoo's Mental Wastebasket.

Privacy

Idiot/Savant presents DNA bill breaches BORA posted at No Right Turn, saying, "Spleen-vent about the NZ government's plans to go on a DNA fishing expedition"

Freedom

Preity Smith presents 80 Great Twitter Feeds for Tracking Human Rights posted at Bachelor's Degree.

Charles Chua C K presents Be Free and Be happy posted at All About Living with Life.

Socratez presents Wikicracy | Socratez Online posted at Socratez Online, saying, "An article about the hypocricy of 'free' democratic nations."

Gary Voysey presents Ahmadinejad: Obama can?t spell his own name ? Israel News, Ynetnews posted at Ramblings and other savageries.

Scott Hughes presents What Freedom Means to Me posted at Philosophy Forums, saying, "The word freedom has little meaning if we do not have a common definition. In this article, I explain my definition of freedom."

Dividist presents Obama Embraces the Bush/Cheney Unitary Executive. Again and again and again. posted at Divided We Stand United We Fall, saying, "During the FISA debate last summer, Markos Moulitsas asked "Where are the Libertarians?". He obviously was not looking very hard. No matter. As we now watch Barack Obama embrace and defend the Constitution trampling, power grabbing excesses and abuses of the Bush/Cheney imperial presidency, it is time to ask "Where are the Liberals?" Certainly there are a few liberals who have not hesitated to pick up the gauntlet, most notably Glen Greenwald, as he takes to task those whose loyalty is not to principle but to a man:"

Suppression

Gary Voysey presents Egypt Opposition to End Protest in Cairo Square « Ramblings and other savageries posted at Ramblings and other savageries.

Other

Cynthia Merritt presents The 10 Biggest Labor Showdowns in U.S. History posted at Criminal Justice Degrees Guide.

Madeleine Begun Kane presents Facebook Face Off? posted at Mad Kane's Humor Blog.

That concludes this edition. Submit your blog article to the next edition of freedom and privacy roundup using our carnival submission form.

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PEOPLE POWER in action

The recent upheavals in northern Africa show just how fast popular action can spread, once the fuse has been lit and the “tipping point” reached between damp squib and satisfying explosion. At the same time as these momentous uprisings, a parallel revolution has shaken politics in the UK; tiny in comparison but no less important for students of People Power. In Africa, despotic rulers have tried for too long to control their people with violence and oppression; in the UK, the government tried to sell off forests belonging to the English people. In both cases there has been a loss of control by the respective governments fuelled by the failure of that well-known governmental tool, the Propaganda Machine.

The Politics of Self-Interest vs. the Politics of Fear

Generally speaking, people will put up with any type of government, democratic or despotic, as long as times are good, or even when they are merely “ok”. It is simple at these times for governments to appeal to their people’s self-interest.

However, when times start to go bad, and government and individual self-interest part company, governments have to work a little harder if they want to maintain the Status Quo.

It helps for several Conditions and Tools to be in place in order for governments to work against peoples’ self interest:

  • Apathy is a government’s best friend, and the most usual one for a Parliamentary Democracy like the UK
  • Partisanship, whether Tribal, Religious or Ethnic, is a key player all over the world, even in the USA where divisions between Republican and Democrat can in places take on tribal connotations
  • A poorly or narrowly-educated population is easier to steer, particularly with emotive messages
  • Ignorance of the outside world via Media Control means a population can be isolated from dangerous ideas
  • Powerlessness, stemming from a widely held view that the government is too strong to oppose, is a common control myth used throughout the world
  • Widespread Fear of the alternative helps keep a population in line
  • An Information Network that correctly informs the government about its people’s attitudes, thoughts and feelings is necessary if these things are to be manipulated
  • A powerful and effective Propaganda Machine using trained or naturally charismatic spin-doctors is invaluable when a government has difficult messages to put across

Under all these Conditions, which can be perfectly normal for any country whatever the political system, the current government can stay in power for decades with very little effort. Simple Propaganda messages such as “The alternative would be so much worse”, “It’s for the good of the people” and “We’re all in this together” can be very effective, when really they are only lies whose true meaning is: “Do as we say or else”. When some of the above Conditions no longer apply, governments start getting into real trouble.

The Voice of the People

If we take the examples of Libya and Britain, it becomes obvious how the removal of the above Conditions can encourage the rise and eventual success of Vox Populi.

Libya

Since Colonel Gaddafi established the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya in the early Seventies, he has increasingly relied upon the Conditions of Powerlessness and Fear, supported by Information Networks and an effective Propaganda Machine. Gaddafi himself is supposed to have relinquished personal power in favour of a Direct Democracy, where there are no political parties and the country is controlled by the populace through local councils, communes, and a General People’s Congress. In reality, the Colonel kept his hands firmly (and individually) on the reins, and policy was disseminated in a top-down direction.

He was never really able to use the Condition of Ignorance as Libya welcomed foreign workers into its economy and at the same time embraced the new Media Technologies. For decades the young people of Libya have enjoyed an excellent education system, and as a result the populace is largely well-educated.

The Conditions which still kept the Voice of the People down; those of Powerlessness and Fear were defeated by the sight of successful popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt – viewed and spread, of course, by media-savvy Libyans via the Internet and Mobile Phone networks. Gaddafi’s Propaganda Machine seems to be limping along, churning out old messages of anti-West and anti-Zionist type, but his Information Network has either broken down completely, or he dissembles when he declares, as he has done recently, that “All my people love me”. Neither of these two Tools is adequate for the task.

His only resource, if he wants to stay in power, can be Fear through violence against his people. Unless he steps down the consequences are inevitably going to be bloody and tragic, especially as that other Condition of Partisanship has reared its ugly head, pitting tribe against tribe, though this may also fall as perceived self-interest overcomes it.

Britain

Politics in the UK seem very tame by comparison! But the British government has recently made a huge mistake by failing to use any of the Tools which might have been at its disposal, at a period when most of the Conditions had disappeared.

For half a century, the defining Conditions in the UK with regard to politics have been Apathy and Powerlessness. An indifferent education system for the masses has also contributed to a feeling that politics doesn’t matter. “Whoever gets into power, nothing will change” and “they’re all the same” are still commonly held beliefs. With these ideas in place, there has been no need to foster other, more repressive Conditions. Governments have, however, made use of the Tools of the Information Network and the Propaganda Machine. Words that were once foreign to British ears, such as Spin-Doctor, and phrases such as “Keeping in touch with the people” are now well-worn and little loved.

At the General Election, the Labour government’s Propaganda Machine was no match for the anger of voters who had been let down by the credit crunch crisis. Despite this, a hung parliament resulted, meaning that no party had an overall majority. A Coalition government of Conservatives and Liberals was elected, and that seems to have had a curious side-effect on the British people: Apathy and Powerlessness have suddenly gone out of the window.

The public knows that if the Coalition doesn’t deliver, it can be brought down. It also knows that Times Are Hard, and that unpalatable decisions need to be taken to get the country back on track. You would think that, at such a time, the government would work extra hard to hone the twin Tools of the Information Network and the Propaganda Machine. And in some ways, they have: witness the Prime Minister’s lame call that “We’re all in it together” – not particularly effective when delivered by a government full of moneyed and landed public school types. The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, has actively encouraged people to tell the government what is wrong, and how it can be changed for the better. Whether this will lead to change is anyone’s guess.

However, in the case of the Great English Forest Sell-Off, the government didn’t bother to use either of these Tools at all, with disastrous (or comical, depending on your point of view) results.

The UK government, along with many others, needs to raise money. One idea they wished to adopt was to sell off much of England’s publically owned forests. The sale would be hedged around with vague conditions about continued public access and restricted commercial use, and a great deal of money might be raised. The Minister in charge says that in order to sell the idea to likely stakeholders (environmental groups, nature charities, and rambling associations) she asked them “Whether they would like improved security of access rights to English woodland. And of course they said ‘Yes, they would’”. No sell-off was mentioned, probably because the public knows that government conditions of sale are empty promises. As a piece of manipulation, it’s breathtakingly crude, and also begs the question of why the interested groups did not smell a rat.

Normally a proposed Bill like this goes to public consultation before Parliament, giving time for objectors to suggest changes. This Bill didn’t even get that far. As soon as the Press got hold of it, they knew they had struck gold, for the following reasons:

  • People who use English forests for recreational purposes tend to be better educated, passionate about the environment, and not afraid to express their opinions
  • They are likely to include family members and friends of politicians of the current government
  • The paid-up membership of one wildlife organisation in particular, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, is greater than that of all the political parties put together
  • The concept of selling forests is very emotive

The Press had a field day: petitions were organized by Newspapers, TV, Wildlife Charities, Public Watchdog organisations and by individuals using Social Networks and the Internet to out-manoeuvre the government. Within the space of a few days millions of signatures had been obtained and delivered to the Prime Minister. Shortly afterwards the Bill was history.

The government had not only failed to properly canvass peoples’ views before deciding to unveil the proposal, but they had also neglected their propaganda messages, to the extent where they were completely unable to explain their position to an irate public.

To sum up: none of the Conditions were in place which enables the state to control the people, but despite this, Tools which could have been used to support the government’s proposal were considered unnecessary.

Two different governments and two different scenarios, but a win in both cases for Vox Populi, powered by an increasingly knowledgeable, capable and empowered world population, and the breaking down of Conditions and Tools historically used to control and manipulate the people.

Kill Switch

It’s been hinted before, but until recently, no government under democracy has ever attempted it.

As you all have probably heard, the Middle East is going through some drastic overhauls with their government systems, and the governments have begun taking actions. They have began limiting and even completely halting internet activity to avoid any further rallying and other “anti-government” activities.

Is it possible for any country to just shutdown internet activity for an undefined amount of time? Or was this just something that we will only see in the Middle Eastern countries?

The truth is, talks about having the power to halt our most liberal means of free speech have been going on for years now – it’s not just a most recent event.

Over the past few years, America has attempted to pass a bill called, “Kill Switch” which gives the executive branch the power to close off or limit the internet.

The greener side of the fence says that this sort of “limit to freedom” will never be possible because of our 5th Amendment to not have our freedom of speech suppressed, or even that our internet network is much more complex than that of a country in the Middle East’s making it much more simpler to control as a whole, i.e. only has about 0.5% of the worlds IP (internet provider) addresses, opposed to the estimated 55.9% of IP that North America alone has.

Then again, in the past 10 years our freedoms have taken a turn for the worst in the US, at least, with acts like the PATRIOT ACT and the Freedom of Information Act, which allows for a disregard for freedoms if you even show the slightest signs of defying the will of the government, in its simplest definition.

Overall, I do believe if the governments needed to, they wouldn’t hesitate to pull the plug on the public portion of the internet calling it, “Protecting the People”, and like many other acts currently in place, people will convince themselves that the little security is greater than the cost of the freedom lost.

Kill Switch

It’s been hinted before, but until recently, no government under democracy has ever attempted it. As you all have probably heard, the Middle East is going through some drastic overhauls with their government systems, and the governments have begun taking actions. They have began limiting and even completely halting internet activity to avoid any further rallying and other “anti-government” activities.

Is it possible for any country to just shutdown internet activity for an undefined amount of time? Or was this just something that we will only see in the Middle Eastern countries?

The truth is, talks about having the power to halt our most liberal means of free speech have been going on for years now – it’s not just a most recent event. Over the past few years, America has attempted to pass a bill called, “Kill Switch” which gives the executive branch the power to close off or limit the internet. The greener side of the fence says that this sort of “limit to freedom” will never be possible because of our 5th Amendment to not have our freedom of speech suppressed, or even that our internet network is much more complex than that of a country in the Middle East’s making it much more simpler to control as a whole, i.e. only has about 0.5% of the worlds IP (internet provider) addresses, opposed to the estimated 55.9% of IP that North America alone has.

Then again, in the past 10 years our freedoms have taken a turn for the worst in the US, at least, with acts like the PATRIOT ACT and the Freedom of Information Act, which allows for a disregard for freedoms if you even show the slightest signs of defying the will of the government, in its simplest definition.

Overall, I do believe if the governments needed to, they wouldn’t hesitate to pull the plug on the public portion of the internet calling it, “Protecting the People”, and like many other acts currently in place, people will convince themselves that the little security is greater than the cost of the freedom lost.

Facebook, The Flashpoint

WorkFacebookFacebook, merely a social networking site or is it far more? It seems that any young adult living in a modernized country has found their way onto Facebook as something of a social necessity and it’s no longer just young adults - people of all ages are creating Facebook profiles for the purposes of staying connected with friends and family. The intentions of Facebook are spot on good, they promote a friendlier world - people can “friend” people they know and stay in touch. It is, perhaps, the greatest social networking technology since the invention of the telephone - and it is far easier to keep in touch with people over Facebook than over the telephone. But what is it costing us? With a telephone you receive a monthly bill charging you for its use, but Facebook is free and if there is anything at all that I can say for certain it is that nothing is ever truly free.

Some users who follow the growth of Facebook’s dominion over our privacy will remember back to March of 2009 when Facebook announced it was changing the Terms of Service that every user must agree to in order to use Facebook. Not a big deal except that in this change Facebook put forth the claim that it actually “owns” all user content and data. This premise would allow Facebook to, quite literally, sell any of its user’s personal information (likes, dislikes, applications used, birthday, family members, etc.) to anyone it pleases. Rationally one finds it hard to justify this, period. Now Facebook will be allowing companies to repost stories on stuff you liked (of theirs) to your friends’ profiles as sponsored advertising, invasion of privacy? I quite think so.

With millions upon millions of users Facebook is likely to be the flashpoint of a mass international revolution towards the protection of one’s privacy. As time has progressed and as Facebook’s popularity and user basis has grown more and more privacy has been withdrawn from the user - the CEO of Facebook (Mark Zuckerberg) made a statement in which he stated that he “knows people don’t want privacy.” With this kind of an attitude leading Facebook We Speak for Freedom will soon need a larger server to accommodate the revolution that is sure to come.

Freedom and the Students

Who controls the past now controls the future. Who controls the present now controls the past.

2010 – the past – and 2011 – both present and future … And what of the future? Our future?

The back end of 2010 was a harsh reminder to this country that a people under pressure will rise against their masters. Freedom has always been a matter of give and take. There is no getting away from the fact that, in life, one must sacrifice some personal freedoms in order to build a supportive community.

… But what happens when that support is removed and we are expected to remain passive?

London, December 9. When a body famed for its apathy rises against the state in numbers great enough to shake the doors of the powers that be … one can’t help but be inspired.

Students. Famous for apathy. The working class. These days famous for the same apathy. What next? Who next? The TUC has backed the students and the students have united with the TUC for their march in March. January 29 will see another student march on London. Across the nation the schools have churned out activist after activist in what is becoming a wave of politicisation amongst the youth of today.

There is a schedule and these events are scheduled to go on … and on.

Having spent time amongst those occupying and at rallies and demos organised by students – not just in London but in York and Leeds as well as Birmingham and Manchester – I feel I have to stand back now and look at this realistically. And realistically speaking, this movement is expanding, rolling along and sweeping up more and more into its body as it makes its way through the year and down towards London.

When any such body is so dedicated to the overhaul of an oppressive master it is more inclined to take setbacks in its stride than to treat them as such. It is unlikely that this will stop any time soon.

So what does it mean for “speaking for freedom” and its future in England?

Well – for a start – it means that people have been reminded that it’s all very good to speak for freedom – in this case, the freedom to study regardless of personal wealth and background – but sometimes your freedom needs to be enforced. If not enforced, enacted.

Freedom to protest.

The students cannot be defeated – they have already lost the fees vote – and yet they continue to rage against the system that is removing the freedoms of their allies and their children to yet to be. This is perhaps the meaning of a lost cause. The original cause was lost but all that has meant is that a new cause has been gained.

Activism is at a new high and the people oppressed are beginning to recall that they are shackled to a way of things. That “way” is supportive to a degree but until we have recognised that we can throw away these shackles for a time and change the world we will remain shackled to the best interests of our masters.

This is FREEDOM.

FREEDOM is OURS.

And we have to keep speaking for it – in actions and words – or it will fall away from us and eventually out of our grasp. At least, until someone stands up anew and shakes their fist at the chains of oppression.

… There is no time like the present.

To paraphrase, there is a time and a place for these things:

what better place than this; what better time than now?

Debate: How We Live Now – John Twelve Hawks

We continue our freedom debates series with the short work by John, How We Live Now, I look forward to your responces in the comments!

How We Live Now

by JOHN TWELVE HAWKS

We drink our morning coffee with a drop of fear. The television news alternates between staged media events and new threats to our lives: terrorism and airline crashes, global warming and car-jackings, an epidemic of avian flu. All the threats are different, but they have one common theme: it's impossible to truly be safe. Somehow all of us have become victims—or potential victims—of a long list of dangers.

With these threats fresh in our mind, we travel to work tracked by pervasive electronic monitoring systems. There's a Global Positioning device inside our automobile and another within our cell phone; both inform a computer of our exact location. A transponder knows when we approach a toll booth. A transit card records our trip on the subway and stores the information in a central data bank. And everywhere we go, there are surveillance cameras—thousands of them—to photograph and record our image. Some of them are “smart” cameras, linked to computer programs that watch our movements in case we act differently from the rest of the crowd: if we walk too slowly, if we linger outside certain buildings, if we stop to laugh or enjoy the view, our body is highlighted by a red line on a video monitor and a security guard has to decide whether he should call the police.

These two modern conditions—a generalized fear coupled with sophisticated electronic monitoring—shape the world of “The Traveler,” my first novel. Many critics have reviewed the book as science fiction, an idea that amuses me; although “The Traveler” is set toward the end of our decade, all the technical aspects described in the book are either in use at this moment or far along in the development process. I didn't write the book to predict the future; I wanted to use the power of fiction to describe how we live now.

This new technology of control and the wide-scale manipulation of fear combine to create something I call “The Vast Machine.” Does the Machine really exist? Are we living in such an environment? And, if this fiction turns out to be the truth, what difference does it make to our lives? The first icon of the 21st century is the closed-circuit surveillance camera, slowly panning back and forth as we move beneath its gaze. A few years ago, it was estimated that the average person in London was photographed at least 300 times by different CCTV cameras on their way to work; the amount of cameras has probably doubled since the terrorist bombings on the London tube.

Chicago gives us a typical example of the rapid spread of surveillance cameras. There are over 2,000 cameras in the city and hundreds more are introduced every month. Mayor Daley stated that “The city owns the sidewalks. We own the streets and we own the alleys.” Then he announced plans to put surveillance cameras in commuter cars, on buses and on the city's street sweeping vehicles.

The outline of a Vast Machine becomes apparent when we examine the new “smart” cameras used in Chicago, London, and Las Vegas. The computers attached to these machines contain a template of what should be determined “normal” behavior for a person. If anyone behaves differently, those actions are immediately detected.

During the next few years, surveillance cameras will also feed data into computerized facial recognition systems. There are about 80 “nodal points”—unique features—in every person's face. Facial recognition systems transform our unique features into complex algorithms that are checked against a database of driver's licenses and passport photos. The idea that a surveillance camera could identify a stranger in a crowd was thought to be fictional by some of my readers, but first-generation recognition systems have been operational for years. At the January 2000 Super Bowl in Florida, dozens of surveillance cameras automatically scanned every person in the crowd and compared the faces to a database of criminal mug shots.

These days, people are routinely photographed when they pass through airport immigration checkpoints, and that image is compared to the biometric data (fingerprints, iris scan) embedded in the passport. But the new biometric passports to be introduced by the United States reveal another aspect of the Vast Machine. Although the passports are ostensibly being introduced to protect us, they actually make it more dangerous for American tourists in foreign countries.

The passports contain a radio frequency identification chip (RFID) so that all our personal information can be instantly read by a machine at the airport. However, the State Department has refused to encrypt the information embedded in the chip, because it requires more complicated technology that is difficult to coordinate with other countries. This means that our personal information could be read by a machine called a “skimmer” that can be placed in a doorway or a bus stop, perhaps as far as 30 feet away.

The U.S. government isn't concerned by this, but the contents of Paris Hilton's cell phone, which uses the same kind of RFID chip, were skimmed and made public last year. It may not seem like a problem when a semi-celebrity's phone numbers and emails are stolen, but it is quite possible that an American tourist walking down a street in a foreign country will be “skimmed” by a machine that reads the passport in his or her pocket. A terrorist group will be able to decide if the name on the passport indicates a possible target before the tourist reaches the end of the street.

The new RFID passports are a clear indication that protection is not as important to the authorities as the need to acquire easily accessible personal information. The means of acquiring information are expanding every day. Most people realize that the GPS devices in automobiles allow a central computer to determine a car's precise location. But there are also hidden sensors placed in car tires as well as a “black box” under each hood that records car speed and direction (generally used in the event of an accident).

While our location is being tracked, computer programs automatically read and evaluate emails without our knowledge. Carnivore is one of the programs mentioned in my novel. It's a “packet sniffer” developed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation along with a variety of other on-line detection programs—like Packeteer and Coolminer—that reassemble message fragments and analyze data. Like the smart surveillance cameras used in Chicago, the Carnivore programs establish a standard for what is normal, and everything else is automatically judged as being suspicious. Gradually, all these evaluation systems are becoming independent of any direct control.

“The Traveler” describes for the first time in any book the secret computational immunology programs being developed in Britain. These programs behave like the leucocytes floating through our bloodstream. The programs wander through the Internet, searching, evaluating, and hiding in a person's home PC, until they detect a “dangerous” statement or unusual information. After gathering our personal information, they return to the central computer. There is no reason why they can't easily be programmed to destroy a target computer…such as the one on which you're reading this essay.

Once you look beyond surveillance cameras, you can find the Vast Machine everywhere.

Infrared devices and x-ray machines can “see” through walls of homes and vehicles. New data systems can instantly evaluate ATM and credit card activity, building a computerized image of our personality and buying preferences. Viewed in isolation, each of these technological developments is not a major threat to our privacy. But the growing computational power of computers allows all of these monitoring tools and databases to be combined into one total information system.

In January 2002, former Reagan administration national security advisor John Poindexter was appointed to be the head of the U.S. government's newly formed Information Awareness Office. Poindexter had been convicted in 1990 of five felony counts of lying to Congress, destroying official documents and obstructing congressional inquires into the Iran-Contra affair, but this didn't seem to disqualify him from his new position.

Under Poindexter's leadership, the IAO proposed a “Total Information Awareness” program that would place all personal information about U.S. citizens in one central database.

According to New York Times columnist William Safire:

“Every purchase you make with a credit card, every magazine subscription you buy and medical prescription you fill, every Web site your visit and email you send and receive, every academic grade you receive, every bank deposit you make, every trip you book and every event you attend—all these transactions and communications will go into what the Defense Department describes as 'a virtual centralized database.'”

In his book “No Place to Hide,” Washington Post reporter Robert O'Harrow describes how the controversy over Total Information Awareness resulted in public protests and Poindexter's resignation. But TIA did not disappear; it was simply renamed the “Terrorist Information Awareness” program, and the technology was passed on to U.S. intelligence agencies. Poindexter may have lost his job, but his vision lives on.

Total information systems are being developed in every industrial country. In Europe, these systems are almost exclusively controlled by the government. In the United States, weak privacy laws have also given private industry almost unlimited power to create dossiers of every American citizen.

I feel strongly about the growing power of computer monitoring systems, and that belief has a great deal to do with my decision to retain a truly private “private life”—even when dealing with my agent and publisher. It seemed hypocritical for an author to attack the loss of privacy in our society and then display his personal life to promote a book. Although I have avoided the media, however, I've talked to a wide variety of people about these new forms of surveillance. A few people have been disturbed about the intrusion, but many have given a more typical response:

“They (our leaders) know what's best.”
“It's a dangerous world.”
“Honest people have nothing to hide.”

Believing that the government knows what's best is an argument that barely merits a serious discussion. Any high school history student can come up with hundreds of examples of when a king, dictator, or elected official followed a destructive, foolish policy. Democracy doesn't protect our leaders from having a limited, parochial vision. Often a politician's true priority is career self-preservation.

The prompt arrests of the four suspects of the failed July 21 London bombings indicated that surveillance cameras and other elements of our electronic society can help protect our society from terrorists. But in destroying our enemies we run the risk of destroying ourselves—those elements of personal freedom and tolerance that define and sustain our society. We seem to be blindly giving up our rights without asking our elected officials how their actions will truly defeat our enemies.

“And so what if they know all about me?” asks the honest citizen. “I'm good person. I've got nothing to hide.” This view assumes that the intimate personal information easily found in our computerized system is accurate, secure, and will only be used for your benefit. What if criminals access your information? What if corporations deny you insurance or employment because the wrong data has ended up in your file? What if you simply want to take control over who knows what about you? Obviously, our government needs to know certain facts about us so that elected officials can enforce laws and protect our borders. But during the last few years, information gathering has gone far beyond the standard data shown on a driver's license or income tax form. These days it is easy to target someone and find out his medical condition, the names of his friends, and the titles of the books he's checked out of the library. This data can be used in sophisticated ways to predict behavior.

In every religion, saints and prophets go off alone when they want to talk to God. We need moments of true privacy to evaluate our thoughts and experiences; to decide what we really believe. There is a reason why a curtain—real or symbolic—is placed around the voting booth in a democratic society. If privacy truly disappears, freedom itself will vanish with it.

It's clear that the new computerized technology has resulted in the end of our conventional view of privacy. But a true picture of the way we live now involves more than Carnivore programs and radio frequency chips. The Vast Machine monitors our actions, but it also gives us a reason for that intrusion. The reason is always the same: those in power are working to protect us.

Fear is a necessary part of our survival; the response is programmed into our neurological system. But in the 21st century, modern communications make it possible for everyone to know instantly about any possible danger, however remote, however far in the future. The Internet multiplies these sources of information, relaying threats both real and imagined.

In his insightful book “The Culture of Fear,” Barry Glassner shows how many of our specific fears are created and sustained by media manipulation. There can be an enormous discrepancy between what we fear and the reality of what could happen to us. Glassner analyzes several “threats” such as airplane disasters, youth homicide, and road rage, and proves that the chance of any of these dangers harming an individual is virtually nonexistent.

Although Glassner accurately describes the falseness of a variety of threats, he refrains from embracing any wide-reaching explanation. It can be argued that the constant message of impending destruction is simply a way for the media to keep us watching television—“Are cyber predators targeting your children?” is a tagline that is going to get the audience's attention. What interests me is not the reality of these threats, but the effect they have on our view of the world.

Fear encourages intolerance, racism and xenophobia. Fear creates the need for a constant series of symbolic actions manufactured by the authorities to show that—yes, they are protecting us from all possible dangers.

In “The Traveler,” powerful men use fear to keep the population under control. While I don't believe that a shadowy group of Illuminati are guiding the industrial world, I think it's clear that a variety of institutions use fear to manipulate public opinion.

Awareness of the past seems ever less important as history is superseded by the present crisis. Most people can still recall the so-called Weapons of Mass Destruction used to justify the war in Iraq, but the fact that the WMD never existed seems to have disappeared from the day-today public discourse. We simply moved on—to a new threat.

Many of our leaders have gone past the old-fashioned politics of the democratic era and entered into the politics of fear. People running for national office no longer emphasize their view of economics or social change. The leading political question of our time has become: who can ease our nightmares? We are being watched and controlled without our knowledge, but the biggest surprise is that there is little broad-based objection to this significant change in our society. Instead of resisting the Vast Machine, many of us have given into cynicism and distraction. Our contemporary culture has become a brilliantly colored surface without a deeper spiritual meaning.

We care more about celebrities than our own neighbors. Are Nick and Jessica getting divorced? Is that famous actor secretly gay? Staged media events allow us to think that everything is false.

Our sense of powerlessness—the belief that an ordinary person does not matter—has twisted our lips into a sneer.

Although I recognize the growing reality of the Vast Machine, I refuse to accept its authority. Each one of us needs to make a choice about what kind of world we want in the future.

The pose of rebellion based on style and attitude is an empty gesture. Political affiliation is not a relevant part of this decision; privacy and personal freedom should be fundamental right for everyone.

The first step is awareness: the realization we are being monitored without our consent.

When we use a shopping card, there's no need to also include accurate data in the application.

Why should our desire to get a discount on detergent require us to provide our address, our phone number and other personal data? All of us need to protect our home computers with programs that destroy spyware. We should realize the implications of giving our social security numbers to large corporations. In real life, protecting one's privacy is never a single dramatic action; it's based on adopting a new attitude toward the powerful forces that want to reduce our lives to a digital image.

We have the power to resist the constant message of fear.

We have the power to use technology, not as a means of control, but as a tool to improve our own society.

In my novel, people are waiting for a Traveler, a visionary, to emerge from the darkness and change their lives. The Travelers are almost extinct, and the last few are defended by a small group of fighters called Harlequins. A great battle has started that will be described in the next two books of the trilogy.

In the real world, our battle will be made of small gestures—small decisions—to protect our private selves from the intrusions of the Vast Machine. No outside force will save us. We must look into our own hearts to find the Travelers and Harlequins—the prophets and warriors—who will keep us free.

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California warrantless phone search legal

Bad news for Californians after Monday's high court decision (http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/opinions/documents/S166600.PDF) which grants the police the right to search the mobile phones of people taken into custody without any search warrant.

The case was based on Gregory Diaz who was arrested in 2007 for conspiracy to sell Ecstasy. A message on his phone found by police read '6 4 $80' which they took to mean six pills for $80, now regardless of whether you think he deserves this for drug dealing or the fact that at UK prices this seems very steep for Ecstasy, the fact that police are able to search a mobile without any warrant is worrying.

With modern mobiles having access to your email, SMS messages, contacts, websites visited and many other important personal, private information, now is the time for all Californians to password protect their mobiles.

As Kathryn Werdegar (one of the dissenting judges) wrote “Never before has it been possible to carry so much personal or business information in one's pocket or purse. The potential impairment to privacy if arrestees' mobile phones and handheld computers are treated like clothing or cigarette packages, fully searchable without probable cause or a warrant is correspondingly great.”

I am in total agreement with her, if the police have probable cause they should seek a warrant to grant them the ability to search a mobile phone, in the same way as they would need to search a computer at somebody’s home.

Debate: What I Believe – Emma Goldman

This is the first in a series of debates we will be running on We Speak for Freedom on the theory of freedom and liberty. I hope this section will inspire the debate in which it was set up for, and will broaden all our views of freedom.

Our first piece is 'What I Believe' by renowned anarchist Emma Goldman. The text is below, please take into account this was written in 1908, but I believe its theory still holds relevance today, if you disagree, well, that is the nature of debate!


What I Believe

Emma Goldman

“What I believe” has many times been the target of hack writers. Such blood-curdling and incoherent stories have been circulated about me, it is no wonder that the average human being has palpitation of the heart at the very mention of the name Emma Goldman. It is too bad that we no longer live in the times when witches were burned at the stake or tortured to drive the evil spirit out of them. For, indeed, Emma Goldman is a witch! True, she does not eat little children, but she does many worse things. She manufactures bombs and gambles in crowned heads. B-r-r-r!

Such is the impression the public has of myself and my beliefs. It is therefore very much to the credit of The World that it gives its readers at least an opportunity to learn what my beliefs really are.

The student of the history of progressive thought is well aware that every idea in its early stages has been misrepresented, and the adherents of such ideas have been maligned and persecuted. One need not go back two thousand years to the time when those who believed in the gospel of Jesus were thrown into the arena or hunted into dungeons to realize how little great beliefs or earnest believers are understood. The history of progress is written in the blood of men and women who have dared to espouse an unpopular cause, as, for instance, the black man's right to his body, or woman's right to her soul. If, then, from time immemorial, the New has met with opposition and condemnation, why should my beliefs be exempt from a crown of thorns?

“What I believe” is a process rather than a finality. Finalities are for gods and governments, not for the human intellect. While it may be true that Herbert Spencer's formulation of liberty is the most important on the subject, as a political basis of society, yet life is something more than formulas. In the battle for freedom, as Ibsen has so well pointed out, it is the struggle for, not so much the attainment of, liberty, that develops all that is strongest, sturdiest and finest in human character.

Anarchism is not only a process, however, that marches on with “sombre steps,” coloring all that is positive and constructive in organic development. It is a conspicuous protest of the most militant type. It is so absolutely uncompromising, insisting and permeating a force as to overcome the most stubborn assault and to withstand the criticism of those who really constitute the last trumpets of a decaying age.

Anarchists are by no means passive spectators in the theatre of social development; on the contrary, they have some very positive notions as regards aims and methods.

That I may make myself as clear as possible without using too much space, permit me to adopt the topical mode of treatment of “What I Believe”:

I. AS TO PROPERTY

“Property” means dominion over things and the denial to others of the use of those things. So long as production was not equal to the normal demand, institutional property may have had some raison d'être. One has only to consult economics, however, to know that the productivity of labor within the last few decades has increased so tremendously as to exceed normal demand a hundred-fold, and to make property not only a hindrance to human well-being, but an obstacle, a deadly barrier, to all progress. It is the private dominion over things that condemns millions of people to be mere nonentities, living corpses without originality or power of initiative, human machines of flesh and blood, who pile up mountains of wealth for others and pay for it with a gray, dull and wretched existence for themselves. I believe that there can be no real wealth, social wealth, so long as it rests on human lives — young lives, old lives and lives in the making.

It is conceded by all radical thinkers that the fundamental cause of this terrible state of affairs is (I) that man must sell his labor; (2) that his inclination and judgment are subordinated to the will of a master.

Anarchism is the only philosophy that can and will do away with this humiliating and degrading situation. It differs from all other theories inasmuch as it points out that man's development, his physical well-being, his latent qualities and innate disposition alone must determine the character and conditions of his work. Similarly will one's physical and mental appreciations and his soul cravings decide how much he shall consume. To make this a reality will, I believe, be possible only in a society based on voluntary co-operation of productive groups, communities and societies loosely federated together, eventually developing into a free communism, actuated by a solidarity of interests. There can be no freedom in the large sense of the word, no harmonious development, so long as mercenary and commercial considerations play an important part in the determination of personal conduct.

II. AS TO GOVERNMENT

I believe government, organized authority, or the State is necessary only to maintain or protectproperty and monopoly. It has proven efficient in that function only. As a promoter of individual liberty, human well-being and social harmony, which alone constitute real order, government stands condemned by all the great men of the world.

I therefore believe, with my fellow-Anarchists, that the statutory regulations, legislative enactments, constitutional provisions, are invasive. They never yet induced man to do anything he could and would not do by virtue of his intellect or temperament, nor prevented anything that man was impelled to do by the same dictates. Millet's pictorial description of “The Man with the Hoe, “Meunier's masterpieces of the miners that have aided in lifting labor from its degrading position, Gorki’s descriptions of the underworld, Ibsen's psychological analysis of human life, could never have been induced by government any more than the spirit which impels a man to save a drowning child or a crippled woman from a burning building has ever been called into operation by statutory regulations or the policeman's club. I believe — indeed, I know — that whatever is fine and beautiful in the human expresses and asserts itself in spite of government, and not because of it.

The Anarchists are therefore justified in assuming that Anarchism — the absence of government —will insure the widest and greatest scope for unhampered human development, the cornerstone of true social progress and harmony.

As to the stereotyped argument that government acts as a check on crime and vice, even the makers of law no longer believe it. This country spends millions of dollars for the maintenance of her “criminals” behind prison bars, yet crime is on the increase. Surely this state of affairs is not owing to an insufficiency of laws! Ninety per cent of all crimes are property crimes, which have their root in our economic iniquities. So long as these latter continue to exist we might convert every lamppost into a gibbet without having the least effect on the crime in our midst. Crimes resulting from heredity can certainly never be cured by law. Surely we are learning even to-day that such crimes can effectively be treated only by the best modern medical methods at our command, and, above all, by the spirit of a deeper sense of fellowship, kindness and understanding.

III. AS TO MILITARISM

I should not treat of this subject separately, since it belongs to the paraphernalia of government, if it were not for the fact that those who are most vigorously opposed to my beliefs on the ground that the latter stand for force are the advocates of militarism.

The fact is that Anarchists are the only true advocates of peace, the only people who call a halt to the growing tendency of militarism, which is fast making of this erstwhile free country an imperialistic and despotic power.

The military spirit is the most merciless, heartless and brutal in existence. It fosters an institution for which there is not even a pretence of justification. The soldier, to quote Tolstoi, is a professional man-killer. He does not kill for the love of it, like a savage, or in a passion, like a homicide. He is a cold-blooded, mechanical, obedient tool of his military superiors. He is ready to cut throats or scuttle a ship at the command of his ranking officer, without knowing or, perhaps, caring how, why or wherefore. I am supported in this contention by no less a military light than Gen. Funston. I quote from the latter's communication to the New York Evening Post of June 30, dealing with the case of Private William Buwalda, which caused such a stir all through the Northwest. “The first duty of an officer or enlisted man,” says our noble warrior, “is unquestioning obedience and loyalty to the government to which he has sworn allegiance; it makes no difference whether he approves of that government or not.”

How can we harmonize the principle of “unquestioning obedience” with the principle of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”? The deadly power of militarism has never before been so effectually demonstrated in this country as in the recent condemnation by court-martial of William Buwalda, of San Francisco, Company A, Engineers, to five years in military prison. Here was a man who had a record of fifteen years of continuous service. “His character and conduct were unimpeachable,” we are told by Gen. Funston, who, in consideration of it, reduced Buwalda's sentence to three years. Yet the man is thrown suddenly out of the army, dishonored, robbed of his chances of a pension and sent to prison. What was his crime? Just listen, ye free-born Americans! William Buwalda attended a public meeting, and after the lecture he shook hands with the speaker. Gen. Funston, in his letter to the Post, to which I have already referred above, asserts that Buwalda's action was a “great military offense, infinitely worse than desertion.” In another public statement, which the General made in Portland, Ore., he said that “Buwalda's was a serious crime, equal to treason.”

It is quite true that the meeting had been arranged by Anarchists. Had the Socialists issued the call, Gen. Funston informs us, there would have been no objection to Buwalda's presence. Indeed, the General says, “I would not have the slightest hesitancy about attending a Socialist meeting myself.”But to attend an Anarchist meeting with Emma Goldman as speaker — could there be anything more “treasonable”?

For this horrible crime a man, a free-born American citizen, who has given this country the best fifteen years of his life, and whose character and conduct during that time were “unimpeachable,” is now languishing in a prison, dishonoured, disgraced and robbed of a livelihood.

Can there be anything more destructive of the true genius of liberty than the spirit that made Buwalda's sentence possible — the spirit of unquestioning obedience? Is it for this that the American people have in the last few years sacrificed four hundred million dollars and their hearts' blood?

I believe that militarism — a standing army and navy in any country — is indicative of the decay of liberty and of the destruction of all that is best and finest in our nation. The steadily growing clamor for more battleships and an increased army on the ground that these guarantee us peace is as absurd as the argument that the peaceful man is he who goes well armed.

The same lack of consistency is displayed by those peace pretenders who oppose Anarchism because it supposedly teaches violence, and who would yet be delighted over the possibility of the American nation soon being able to hurl dynamite bombs upon defenseless enemies from flying machines.

I believe that militarism will cease when the liberty-loving spirits of the world say to their masters:”Go and do your own killing. We have sacrificed ourselves and our loved ones long enough fighting your battles. In return you have made parasites and criminals of us in times of peace and brutalized us in times of war. You have separated us from our brothers and have made of the world a human slaughterhouse. No, we will not do your killing or fight for the country that you have stolen from us.”

Oh, I believe with all my heart that human brotherhood and solidarity will clear the horizon from the terrible red streak of war and destruction.

IV. AS TO FREE SPEECH AND PRESS

The Buwalda case is only one phase of the larger question of free speech, free press and the right of free assembly.

Many good people imagine that the principles of free speech or press can be exercised properly and with safety within the limits of constitutional guarantees. That is the only excuse, it seems to me, for the terrible apathy and indifference to the onslaught upon free speech and press that we have witnessed in this county within the last few months.

I believe that free speech and press mean that I may say and write what I please. This right, when regulated by constitutional provisions, legislative enactments, almighty decisions of the Postmaster General or the policeman's club, becomes a farce. I am well aware that I will be warned of consequences if we remove the chains from speech and press. I believe, however, that the cure of consequences resulting from the unlimited exercise of expression is to allow more expression.

Mental shackles have never yet stemmed the tide of progress, whereas premature social explosions have only too often been brought about through a wave of repression.

Will our governors never learn that countries like England, Holland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark, with the largest freedom of expression, have been freest from “consequences”? Where as Russia, Spain, Italy, France and, alas! even America, have raised these “consequences” to the most pressing political factor. Ours is supposed to be a country ruled by the majority, yet every policeman who is not vested with power by the majority can break up a meeting, drag the lecturer off the platform and club the audience out of the hall in true Russian fashion. The Postmaster General, who is not an elective officer, has the power to suppress publications and confiscate mail. From his decision there is no more appeal than from that of the Russian Car. Truly, I believe we need a new Declaration of Independence. Is there no modern Jefferson or Adams?

V. AS TO THE CHURCH

At the recent convention of the political remnants of a once revolutionary idea it was voted that religion and vote getting have nothing to do with each other. Why should they? “So long as man is willing to delegate to the devil the care of his soul, he might, with the same consistency, delegate to the politician the care of his rights. That religion is a private affair has long been settled by the Bis-Marxian Socialists of Germany. Our American Marxians, poor of blood and originality, must needs go to Germany for their wisdom. That wisdom has served as a capital whip to lash the several millions of people into the well-disciplined army of Socialism. It might do the same here. For goodness' sake, let's not offend respectability, let's not hurt the religious feelings of the people.

Religion is a superstition that originated in man's mental inability to solve natural phenomena. The Church is an organized institution that has always been a stumbling block to progress.

Organized churchism has stripped religion of its naïveté and primitiveness. It has turned religion into a nightmare that oppresses the human soul and holds the mind in bondage. “The Dominion of Darkness, as the last true Christian, Leo Tolstoi, calls the Church, has been a foe of human development and free thought, and as such it has no place in the life of a truly free people.

VI. AS TO MARRIAGE AND LOVE

I believe these are probably the most tabooed subjects in this country. It is almost impossible to talk about them without scandalizing the cherished propriety of a lot of good folk. No wonder so much ignorance prevails relative to these questions. Nothing short of an open, frank, and intelligent discussion will purify the air from the hysterical, sentimental rubbish that is shrouding these vital subjects, vital to individual as well as social well-being.

Marriage and love are not synonymous; on the contrary, they are often antagonistic to each other. I am aware of the fact that some marriages are actuated by love, but the narrow, material confines of marriage, as it is, speedily crush the tender flower of affection.

Marriage is an institution which furnishes the State and Church with a tremendous revenue and the means of prying into that phase of life which refined people have long considered their own, their very own most sacred affair. Love is that most powerful factor of human relationship which from time immemorial has defied all man-made laws and broken through the iron bars of conventions in Church and morality. Marriage is often an economic arrangement purely, furnishing the woman with a life-long life insurance policy and the man with a perpetuator of his kind or a pretty toy. That is, marriage, or the training thereto, prepares the woman for the life of a parasite, a dependent, helpless servant, while it furnishes the man the right of a chattel mortgage over a human life.

How can such a condition of affairs have anything in common with love? — with the element that would forego all the wealth of money and power and live in its own world of untrammeled human expression? But this is not the age of romanticism, of Romeo and Juliet, Faust and Marguerite, of moonlight ecstasies, of flowers and songs. Ours is a practical age. Our first consideration is an income. So much the worse for us if we have reached the era when the soul's highest flights are to be checked. No race can develop without the love element.

But if two people are to worship at the shrine of love, what is to become of the golden calf, marriage? “It is the only security for the woman, for the child, the family, the State.” But it is no security to love; and without love no true home can or does exist. Without love no child should be born; without love no true woman can be related to a man. The fear that love is not sufficient material safety for the child is out of date. I believe when woman signs her own emancipation, her first declaration of independence will consist in admiring and loving a man for the qualities of his heart and mind and not for the quantities in his pocket. The second declaration will be that she has the right to follow that love without let or hindrance from the outside world. The third and most important declaration will be the absolute right to free motherhood.

In such a mother and an equally free father rests the safety of the child. They have the strength, the sturdiness, the harmony to create an atmosphere wherein alone the human plant can grow into an exquisite flower.

VII. AS TO ACTS OF VIOLENCE

And now I have come to that point in my beliefs about which the greatest misunderstanding prevails in the minds of the American public. “Well, come, now, don't you propagate violence, the killing of crowned heads and Presidents?” Who says that I do? Have you heard me, has any one heard me? Has anyone seen it printed in our literature? No, but the papers say so, everybody says so; consequently it must be so. Oh, for the accuracy and logic of the dear public!

I believe that Anarchism is the only philosophy of peace, the only theory of the social relationship that values human life above everything else. I know that some Anarchists have committed acts of violence, but it is the terrible economic inequality and great political injustice that prompt such acts, not Anarchism. Every institution to-day rests on violence; our very atmosphere is saturated with it. So long as such a state exists we might as well strive to stop the rush of Niagara as hope to do away with violence. I have already stated that countries with some measure of freedom of expression have had few or no acts of violence. What is the moral? Simply this: No act committed by an Anarchist has been for personal gain, aggrandizement or profit, but rather a conscious protest against some repressive, arbitrary, tyrannical measure from above.

President Carnot, of France, was killed by Caserio in response to Carnot's refusal to commute the death sentence of Vaillant, for whose life the entire literary, scientific and humanitarian world of France had pleaded.

Bresci went to Italy on his own money, earned in the silk weaving mills of Paterson, to call King Humbert to the bar of justice for his order to shoot defenseless women and children during a bread riot. Angelino executed Prime Minister Canovas for the latter's resurrection of the Spanish inquisition at Montjuich Prison. Alexander Berkman attempted the life of Henry C. Frick during the Homestead strike only because of his intense sympathy for the eleven strikers killed by Pinkertons and for the widows and orphans evicted by Frick from their wretched little homes that were owned by Mr. Carnegie.

Every one of these men not only made his reasons known to the world in spoken or written statements, showing the cause that led to his act, proving that the unbearable economic and political pressure, the suffering and despair of their fellow-men, women and children prompted the acts, and not the philosophy of Anarchism. They came openly, frankly and ready to stand the consequences, ready to give their own lives.

In diagnosing the true nature of our social disease I cannot condemn those who, through no fault of their own, are suffering from a wide-spread malady.

I do not believe that these acts can, or ever have been intended to, bring about the social reconstruction. That can only be done, first, by a broad and wide education as to man's place in society and his proper relation to his fellows; and, second, through example. By example I mean the actual living of a truth once recognized, not the mere theorizing of its life element. Lastly, and the most powerful weapon, is the conscious, intelligent, organized, economic protest of the masses through direct action and the general strike.

The general contention that Anarchists are opposed to organization, and hence stand for chaos, is absolutely groundless. True, we do not believe in the compulsory, arbitrary side of organization that would compel people of antagonistic tastes and interests into a body and hold them there by coercion. Organization as the result of natural blending of common interests, brought about through voluntary adhesion, Anarchists do not only not oppose, but believe in as the only possible basis of social life.

It is the harmony of organic growth which produces variety of color and form — the complete whole we admire in the flower. Analogously will the organized activity of free human beings endowed with the spirit of solidarity result in the perfection of social harmony — which is Anarchism. Indeed, only Anarchism makes non-authoritarian organization a reality, since it abolishes the existing antagonism between individuals and classes.

Disguises/Personas

Changing Personas: Being Someone Else For a While

Living off the Grid is tricky. The main reason people do so is that they don’t want to be found or identified by the Vast Machine. Now, I’ve mentioned in previous articles that faking your death and changing your identity are bad ideas. This is because that doing either of those things has too high a chance of backfiring. However, it is wise to have a couple of personas handy.

So, what’s the difference between an identity and a persona? An identity is who you are on paper. A persona is how you are perceived; it’s who you show people. In other words, you can be John Mullings (no, that’s not my real name) cashier, but maybe you’re in an area with a lot of cameras. You then become Alex Wilson (again, not me), mechanic or real estate agent. How to you make that switch? Let’s look at some aspects of these two personas, shall we?

Before:

John Mullings, age 25, blonde hair, blue eyes, 5’9”. Confident, walks with head held high, shoulders straight, purposeful gait. Usually wears polo shirts and loose-fitting khakis, or a work uniform, and tennis shoes. No tattoos or piercings.

After:

Alex Wilson, age 23, black hair, brown eyes, 6’1”. Self-conscious, but not overly shy. Slouches a bit, and walks with a bit more pressure on his left foot. Follows the “punk-rocker” style, wearing vintage/band tee-shirts with a dark-colored leather/vinyl jacket and black jeans (sometimes “skinny jeans”). Wears brown or black boots. Both ears are pierced with rings, the left with an extra ring at the top of the lobe, and the nose is pierced with a stud. Tattoo of the Japanese Kanji for “Fire.”

So, these two guys are actually the same person. So, how does John become Alex? With a little prep and acting skills. First, the name. It’s simple, nothing overdone, nothing crazy. Do not name your persona Gaia Pheonixlord. Changing the hair and eye color is a no-brainer, use dye and colored contacts. Glasses, especially thick-rimmed ones, slightly alter the outline of your face, and no one looking too closely will know the difference. How to adjust your height? There are some websites or specialty shops that sell wedges to put in your shoes to add a couple of inches. Or, you can make one by cutting a soft block of wood into a wedge and slipping it into your shoe. Just make sure you can walk comfortably. I don’t recommend adding more than 4 inches to your height. Do not alter your height while wearing flat-soled shoes such as Converse All-Stars. Another idea is to wear shoes that are a size too big for you.

Fake earrings are sold at novelty shops. The fake studs are usually magnetic. Fake rings are simple rings of metal that have a gap and can be fastened to your ear.
As far as fake tattoos go, I just take a Sharpie or other permanent marker and draw a simple design on my arm or leg. This takes a bit of practice. If you’re an artsy person, feel free to use different colors and more complex designs. I don’t recommend buying “temporary tattoos” because you can only get a limited number of the same ones, and if you reuse a persona, you need it to be exact, even if the tattooed area is covered by clothing (just in case a sleeve is drawn up).

When using a persona, a different walk is a must. You don’t have to walk with a limp, per se, but apply more pressure to a step in one of your feet as you walk. Try shuffling your feet a bit. Slouching in varying degrees helps as well.

If you can fake an accent, more power to you. But try to keep your accents country-based. In other words, in the United States, don’t use an English/British accent. You need to be ordinary. If you’re from New York, talk with a slight Southern drawl. If you’re from LA, talk tough like they do in Brooklyn. Try to adopt their terminology and syntax. For example, in most northern states of the U.S, “soda” is referred to as “pop.” Also, unless you’re in the southeast U.S, “ain’t” isn’t a word.

While ID cards and such aren’t needed for a persona, you do need a simple backstory for yourself. It shouldn’t be complex, nor should be a horror story (do not let off a thrilling tale of abuse and escape as a kid). Keep it simple. For example, you’re from Canton, Ohio, your mother is a teacher, and your father works in the local export industry. Do your research. Make sure that these places and companies exist. Also, if you are pretending to be a different age, memorize the year your persona was born in, when they started and finished school, etc.

Keep in mind that the acting aspect of hiding is just as important as the physical aspect. If someone asks awkward questions, as if they don’t believe you, don’t try to convince them of something. When you are in another persona, you ARE that person. You KNOW where you came from. At the same time, don’t get too attached to a persona. It’s easy to do it, but dangerous, as you may have to drop it in an instant, and it will feel like killing a part of yourself.

If you get made (get discovered), just shed the persona. It may be a part of you, but it’s disposable. As I mentioned before, it can be hard, but it must be done. Once you’ve destroyed a persona, never use it again.

Common mistakes to watch out for:

Not changing your voice.

Forgetting your name (this happens often).

Forgetting your backstory, or giving conflicting info (being 26 but being born too soon for it).

Forgetting a tattoo (if you have one).

I hope this brief guide has helped you better understand the disguise/acting aspect of living off the Grid. It is a lot trickier than it sounds. I suggest never having more than 3 personas at one time (one of them is your real self).