Donald Trump won the presidency. Now, among so much else, the United States and the world will have to contend with a vast, largely unaccountable system of surveillance which will be at his control.
The growth of that system isn’t confined to any ideology. It’s grown vastly under the Obama administration, and likely would’ve continued to grow under Hillary Clinton, and the American deep state is existentially invested in its maintenance and growth.
Under Trump this system will be at the hands of someone who has a history of eavesdropping on his guests at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, is reportedly tracking his “enemies” and has expressed plans to punish them. On the campaign trail he said he would “bomb the shit” out of ISIS in Middle Eastern countries (and then take their oil), and late last year he told radio host Hugh Hewitt that he’d be inclined to support the NSA’s vast metadata collection despite the fact he neither uses computers nor understands digital technology.
Trump also enters office in a country where surveillance, including digital surveillance, disproportionately affects minorities (part of a long, shameful history) and where speech, especially political speech, is increasingly surveilled. Trump’s administration will probably embolden a largely unaccountable FBI, NSA, and local authorities who target black people, muslims, latinx immigrants, and other marginalized groups.
As Conor Friedersdorf wrote in The Atlantic three years ago, a tyrant has all the infrastructure he needs. Trump has won and we’re now faced with the question of what he will do with that infrastructure.
On a policy level, there may be little you can now do, post-election day, but on a personal level, there are some ways you can protect yourself from easy surveillance.
First off, improve your passwords. Use a password vault app like 1password or LastPass so that you can easily generate a unique, gibberish password for every digital account that you don’t have to commit to memory.
If you haven’t yet, turn on 2-factor authentication for your email, for all social media, for everything. Two-factor means that beyond a password you need a second code sent to a device like your phone to log into an account. It’s system that has problems —determined hackers can get around it— and it’s not enough on its own, but it’s another layer of security.
If you have a website, switch to HTTPS, which is more secure than HTTP. If you visit websites, use extensions like HTTPS Everywhere, which will encrypt your browser’s communications with websites further.
Speaking of browsers and encryptions, download the Tor browser, which helps protect your web traffic by routing it through relays around the world. You should also get and learn how to use the Tails operating system, which you can run off of a USB stick or SD card, and which also uses the Tor network to circumvent potential surveillance.
Encrypt all your communications, too: Use encrypted messaging apps like Signal. It’s easy and will encrypt your messages and phone calls to other Signal users so that only you two are privy to the conversation. Facebook Messenger and iMessage can be encrypted, but use Signal, seriously. Facebook, Apple, and other corporations are much more beholden to the interests of the national security complex, and are ultimately companies that need to make a profit. Signal is open source and developed by volunteers. Also, be cognizant of your phone in general, since it knows where you are all the time. It’s less easy, but consider encrypting your email using PGP.
These steps matter not just for you, but for anyone you’re in contact with, so talk to your friends, family and colleagues. Security is a two-way street.
These are small steps, and ones it’d be prudent to follow under any circumstances. It may seem like a lot, but these are easy things to learn, and once put in place will, by default, help protect you not just from hackers but from a security state run amok.
Update: I should add (at least) one additional item. Cover the camera on your computer.