Worst Government Snoops: Russia, China … and USA

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Ah, the land of the free.

Forrester Research has a depressing summary of international privacy protections for data stored in a cloud service like Mozy, Google Docs or Dropbox. (It’s a clever graphic done up as a “data protection heat map.”) The worst countries to live in, if you value your digital secrets, are marked with an exclamation point that stands for, “Caution Due to Government Surveillance.” That Big Brother icon goes to Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and the traditional heavyweights of state repression: Russia and China. Oh, and the United States.

Highest marks go to Germany and Switzerland.

I’ve always shied away from online data storage. I don’t even use my employers’ network drives for anything sensitive. I want to control access myself. But there’s no denying that tools like Dropbox and SugarSync are valuable for syncing your files across two or more computers.

Cloud services cut both ways in terms of security: you get off-site backup and disaster recovery, but you entrust your secrets to somebody else’s hands. Doing the latter increases your exposure to government surveillance and the potential for deliberate or inadvertent breaches of your confidential files.

All good counterspies know there are tradeoffs. My compromise is to use the cloud for convenience if the files I’m storing are the kind I wouldn’t mind being stolen and passed around. For anything at all confidential, no way.

If you share my privacy bias, though, you’d better find another way to back up your data. Well-secured files don’t do you much good if you lose them in a fire or hard drive crash. (Eat your spinach, exercise, and keep copies of your backups in more than one place.) I favor pocket-sized hard drives that travel between home and office, syncing with computers on both ends.

Encrypted, of course. We’ll get to that in another post soon.

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