Surveillance camera with an artistic human-like eye on a building exterior.

There is no denying the UK is one of the most heavily surveilled countries in the world. You will not be able to buy a pint of milk from a shop on any street in any county without your face being captured unknowingly dozens of times. Public surveillance is at a stage where there are so many CCTV cameras that it feels uncomfortable for innocent folk who do no harm and no wrongdoing to have any kind of privacy. Innocent folk have to take drastic action to protect themselves online and offline because the state wants to know more about you than you know about yourself.

Governments around the world have ramped up their surveillance capabilities, often under the guise of national security, which has compromised the personal privacy of their citizens. And if, like us, you value your freedom, not because you are a hardened criminal mastermind but simply because you are frustrated at the thought that authorities (mostly corrupt) can perform various tactics, including OSINT*, to probe deep into your personal lives.

*Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) refers to the process of collecting and interrogating information that is freely available from public sources for the purpose of intelligence-gathering.

Protect your web browsing countries with heavy surveillance

VPN (Virtual Private Network)

A VPN gives you peace of mind that your mobile network provider and your Wi-Fi network provider are unable to gather information on your browsing habits.  OK, so you may be ordering a pizza, but why let your provider log the website you visited, the time and date, and how long you were on the website? Enabling a VPN encrypts your web traffic through a virtual network so providers are unable to snoop.

A VPN is great when logging into your online bank and other private sites from an unsecured cafe network because the traffic is encrypted. Plus, a VPN hides your real IP address to place you in a different country you choose, which also has benefits.

A VPN offers invaluable protection against state surveillance and should be at the top of your shopping list. Reputable VPN providers like ExpressVPN and ProtonVPN are solid, reliable choices with strict no-logging policies, and both operate outside of the 14 Eyes Alliance jurisdiction.

Password Manager

The next two recommendations use software and hardware solutions that provide exceptional protection for password logins. It is so strong, in fact, that state surveillance would not be possible to access. At its most basic level, a password manager encrypts all your most sensitive personal and business passwords, including documents, in an impenetrable yet easily accessible format.

You only need to create and remember one master password to unlock the vault and access all your passwords and data. However, password managers implement other security measures, so even if you give the password to a state, it's still impossible to gain access without a secondary piece of security that only you know.

A password manager can create and store highly complex passwords for each individual login by using a combination of special characters, numbers and letters, and autocomplete the user and pass fields for you. But a password manager can do much more and is one of the best investments you can make for securing the most crucial aspects of your digital life. Reputable password managers like 1Password, Bitwarden and Proton Pass have an excellent reputation and ensure even if their servers were compromised by any state, no data is stored.

Hardware Key

Another excellent option to complement a password manager is a physical hardware key. Touted as being the absolute pinnacle in login protection, a hardware key such as the YubiKey, owned by the Swedish company Yubico, boasts a 100% zero access success rate.

When logging into a website, you will be prompted to insert the hardware key and then authorise the web login by physically interacting with the key. As each YubiKey is unique to its owner, it's impossible to access an account login without the key; for this reason, and as Yubico explains, it is wise to have a backup key, too, because if you misplace your original key, you are locked out of your own accounts. There are many hardware keys available; however, YubiKey is the most recognised player and another stellar investment.

Name, Number and Email Aliases

It doesn't take a genius to obtain your home address from someone knowing your full name. And, if you are the type of person who uses only one personal email address for all correspondences, you are allowing yourself and the contents of your email to be compromised.

Likewise, giving out your real mobile number leaves you open to scammers. We protect ourselves in the digital world, yet not so obviously in the real world, and the best way to protect yourself against snoopers, hackers, and the state (and everyone else in between) is to mask your identity.

When completing an online order, give an alias name. When asked for your phone number, email or date of birth, give an alias. Of course, aliases need not apply to legal obligations like your driving license or passport, but otherwise, there is no legal requirement that states you must provide your real details in other aspects of your life. Always give an alias close to the truth, making the details easier to remember.

To protect your real email, consider reputable sources like SimpleLogin or Addy. To protect your real phone number, services like Burner Number or Hushed do a good job. There are reputable VOIP services that offer deposable digital mobile numbers. To protect your real name and date of birth, get into the habit of giving a different surname and swap day and month digits around for your DOB.

With practice, you can create an almost perfect mirror image of yourself with a name, age, email and number, and you can even give a star sign that can convincingly roll off your tongue.

Remember.. the better you protect your identity in the real world, the better protected you are in the digital world.

There are a ton of things you can actively do to protect yourself from state surveillance; however, the reason many do not is because of complacency. Considerations to give yourself better self-protection include but are not limited to the following (not in any particular order):

Cash is King

Society is slowly being manipulated towards using digital wallets (you have seen shop signs that read 'cashless payments only') because a cashless state creates a trackable way to monitor your spending habits and your location and identify your lifestyle.

Remove Metadata from Photos

Photographs and video clips store metadata that identifies your location, the device used to take images and footage and the time stamp.

Erase Data with Military-Grade Procedures

Wiping your electronic devices at Peter Gutmann (35 passes) level before selling them or binning them on a tip will ensure data recovery is negligible from prying eyes.

Use a Paper Shredder

This is the minimum standard for disposing written notes and sensitive typed info on paper. Never screw up and throw paper in a bin. If you thought a state wouldn't rummage through your bin liners, you are mistaken. Other methods are filling a bathtub with water and allowing the paper to stick together for around 24 - 48 hours, then draining the bath and leaving the paper to dry out.

Links and Downloading Attachments

Be wary of emails that contain URLs and documents from companies or people that you do not know. Even from people that you do know - be cautious because rogue web domains can closely resemble legitimate domains to trick you, and use an old laptop that is not connected to Wi-Fi to open documents.

Deploying Anti-Surveillance Techniques

There are a number of effective surveillance equipment designed specifically to help protect yourself when sitting in important meetings, when travelling or if you suspect that you or your company may be a target for espionage. The Pro 1217 Anti Tracking Mobile System is a professional handheld bug detector that packs small but is ideal for scanning and identifying rogue transmitting signals in hotel rooms prior to your accommodation.

Other professional equipment includes Spectrum Analysers, Non-Linear Junction Detectors, and other anti-eavesdropping.

The list of ways to self-protection is endless and can be daunting, but it's good practice to stay safe because navigating the web in surveillance-heavy countries requires a multi-faceted approach to your privacy and security.