Life on the road is interesting some times…
First off, I’m out of the Hotels now. I’ve got a nice little ‘bungalow’ of sorts. One bedroom, kitchen, living room, cable TV and more. Price is about $400 / month more than the hotels, but worth it, I think. The spouse comes out to join me in a couple of days (so being out of the fleabags was not optional ;-)
Along the way some interesting “puzzles” came along. One was how to get mail. You would think that you could just go sign up for a mail box at “Mail Boxes R Us” or some such and be done. But no…
Our paranoid intrusive and Police State government has leaned on the Mail Box companies such that you can’t just sign up and pay and get an address. You must already have an address to get an address. TWO forms of ID are required (one with photo and government issued…), copies of them are kept, you must have a real physical address that they can take down, they want an email address and a telephone too. Oh, and a credit card (which must have an address too…) Then there is the official Application For Mail Delivery Via an Agent form to fill out. One can show a “power company bill” to show you have a local address, that way you can get a mail box to have a local address… Sigh.
It would seem that the needs of the Road Warriors of the world are not of interest to the Paranoid Police State. Not only does one not have a local address when living in hotels, but if one rents a place “utilities included” one does not even have a power bill…
The bottom line is that I STILL have not got a “local address” for my physical mail; even though I now have a place for the next few months. I could “kind of sort of” get a local address in that I could get mail put in a bin for me at the collective address of where the cottage is located, but that’s a bit less secure than I’d like. I’d also like something that didn’t change every time I moved locations – and this place is only for a couple of months. Yes, I’m hoping to ratchet up one more level.
OK, so to get a Rent-A-Mailbox you need to already have a load of ID Info and all of it gets collected and shared around to all the various agencies (and, thanks to the “email notification” companies use these days for various other account set ups and billing, all THAT data ends up in NSA computer data archives…)
Not particularly wanting my phone number to get tons of crap calls, nor have it shared with everyone and their cousin, I thought I could at least get a local phone number via either a “Burner phone” or an IP Phone (internet phone). The “Burner phones” looked a bit expensive (at about $40 / month) so I looked into an IP Phone. At $9 and then about $10 / month, not too bad. Wally World has their “Basic Talk” at that price point, so I decided to play with it. “Burner Email” accounts being fairly easy to get, I’m assuming folks can do that on their own. (I went ahead and used a ‘real email’ for the initial set up; but if really working on a “Private Existence” first step looks to be “get a burner email address” since everyone wants the email to do anything.
Now Basic Talk spends a LOT of time ranting about how you MUST have a high speed internet like DSL or Cable. I had neither, but didn’t think that ought to stop me ;-) Both of THEM come with location information and a tether to Yet Another Company and their billing records. I decided to try using it with my Wireless Hot Spot.
Yes, I’ve managed to make a clunky “Ersatz Cell Phone”…
A $5 El Cheapo ordinary phone plugs into the Basic Talk box (that takes wall power… A battery and inverter are needed to make this phone rig “portable” ;-). The Basic Talk has an ethernet cable to the laptop that has “Share my internet connection” turned on. A future project will move that onto the Raspberry Pi instead of the Laptop… but for now, the laptop does a WiFi connect to the wireless hotspot and BINGO! I’ve got phone.
I haven’t tested it yet, but in theory this ought to mean I can use Starbucks, or various Hotel WiFi, etc. to provide my “Laptop Router” with high speed internet. That means my Basic Talk phone ought to be able to move around with me. Ditto the RPi variation when I get around to doing that.
So the “Set Up” was far more painful than it needed to be. Not technically, that was trivial. Plug ethernet to laptop and Basic Talk. Turn on Hot Spot. Laptop connect to Hot Spot (set up as automatic now). Turn on “share my Internet” in the laptop. Plug dumb phone into Basic Talk. Turn on power. It’s done. No, the hard part was getting through the interrogation screen at basictalk.com new accounts. There’s a panel that DEMANDS a physical address for 911 calls. Once again, you MUST have an address. Sigh. OK, I finally got it to take an address; but it took a while. I’m expected to always keep this correct, too, per the Agreement. Wonder how that whole “at Starbucks” thing fits their paradigm… It also wants a phone number.
Yes, you MUST have a phone number before you can get a phone number. I think I’m starting to see a pattern here…
So I had already picked the number I wanted for the Gizmo, but it balked at that as my “contact number”. I eventually gave it a number of a phone at work. THEN it was happy to complete the set up. THEN it let me change the number to the one on the Basic Talk gizmo. So as long as you have a ‘Burner’ number, you can eventually get this set up to be your ONE phone number. (One is left wondering how long the ‘Burner’ number is kept in records… and if a pay phone number would also work…) At any rate, you then also must give it a credit card for billing (and the Billing Address for that card, too).
Clearly there are a lot of Catch 22 things going on here.
How would someone just off the boat (or just out of school, or other institutions) get a phone number without a credit card that they can’t get without an address that they can’t get without…
OK, I’ve pondered the “boot up” problem a bit. More on that in a moment.
First: The phone quality was pretty good. In a 1/2 hour or so phone call to a friend, most of the time it was nearly land line quality. There were about 30 seconds total spread over a half dozen moments where it had ‘digital breakup’ and was a tiny bit garbled. There is some significant time lag compared to real land line, but not worse than other cell phones. All in all, it worked fine. Comes with voice mail and you set up an account that lets you use your computer to check your metadata (billing and usage) along with caller ID of who called you and what messages were left. As I used my cell phone to check that calling worked, I’ve “printed” my contact trace into the phone records and thus into the NSA Database. Were one doing this for a Real Burner Phone with some sense of privacy and anonymity, that would be a bad thing to do.
So, all up, for $10 Basic Talk, $5 very cheap phone, and leveraging off of my Laptop and Wireless Hot Spot, I had phone service up and running inside an hour. But with far more information about me demanded than I care for. For one thing, it would be good to go into this with a Bogus Email already set up (one you would use for this account and set up, but disposable if the junk gets too rich). It would also be good to have a temporary use Bogus Phone Number for the “contact phone”. At that point you are just down to “billing information”.
That gets a bit touchy. There are prepaid cards you can buy, but they, too, want a lot of information about you; like a phone number and an address and… Catch 22 again. It looks to me like the only way to do this with some modicum of privacy is to get one whole set of “Burner Email, Phone Number, Address” that are used to set up a second set and then the first ones scrubbed. Not perfect (as the trail still exists), but perhaps enough for some small privacy.
So, for example, by getting a prepaid card, using this Basic Talk phone number, and a quasi-valid address, Burner Email, etc., one could then use it to get a Mail Box. Now with that Mail Box, one gets a different prepaid card, phone number, etc. Then the first set are closed up. Move to a different address. Once a year or so, repeat. After a while, the trail back to anything physically you (home, bank, cell phone) can be muddied enough that most folks would not follow it. (Though enough would be in NSA databases for them to unscramble it, at least for the 5 year retention period they claim to be using now.)
Seems like a heck of a lot of work just to have some privacy, but there you go.
As it stands now, I’ve got a “local phone number” tied to me via a credit card, and an email account. I could easily have scrubbed the email. But the credit card takes more work. Using a temporary, but real, address does leave a trail back to the “real you” for the diligent. I suppose folks could just use an address that does not really lead to them. Yet for the prepaid cards, they send the final one in the mail to your mail box, so somewhere along the line you must have a physicality. Yet once you have a reloadable card, in theory you could “move on” to a different mail box leaving only the bread crumbs of that original ‘set up’ to make the connection.
Some hotels will ‘rent you a box’ ( IIRC Motel 6 did this in their Suites) for mail while you are there; so I suppose you could pay cash for the Hotel Room, then leverage that mail box into a prepaid card, then leverage them into a bit more private a set. Leaving only the “ID at check in” at the hotel as the connection.
Why do I care?
Well, mostly just curiosity. That, and I’m mostly employed in things related to computer security; so I’m supposed to know about this kind of stuff, and how to stop it. How to do the forensics that lets you unravel it. That, then, implies knowing how to DO it, so you can ‘un-DO’ it. I could easily see me with a contract to a TLA to figure out how to design systems to prevent anonymous calling or buying. Then there is the recent news that shows we are on the cusp of becoming a complete Police State with NO privacy. Makes me wonder just how far it really has gotten. That it looks like “nearly a done deal” does not bring comfort.
A little bit it is just for things like having a phone that makes IP calls over the internet for cheap. Some for the technical questions (like, “can I really tunnel an IP Telephone through the laptop and over a Hot Spot that is using 3G digital?” It is kind of fun to think that I’ve got a Sprint network data account, but just used it to make a voice call.) It also means I now have a ‘local number’ I can hand out to all those folks who demand a phone number; but where I’ll essentially never answer it. I can make calls when I want (and fire up the laptop) and from anywhere I want; at a minimum confounding my physicality of location. I’m also pretty sure there isn’t a GPS chip in any of the phone gear or laptop. (The Hot Spot I don’t know about; but with the Galaxy Note it lets you turn off geolocation, and I’ve not seen evidence of folks figuring out where it is based on the Hot Spot…)
So in some small way it is a bit of a comfort that for $10 / month I can make a butt load of phone calls should I so desire, over any of a couple of Internet Spigot types. Though I’ve not tested to prove it works when the Internet Router and Carrier are changed (it ought not to care). I did have to “lie to the account set up” and tell it I had Cable Internet, as it didn’t have a choice of “wireless hot spot” and was darned argumentative about wanting a real physical location for 911. So I’m outside their paradigm.
It looks like there is a concerted push to assure anyone can be “bagged and tagged” via phone (geolocation / GPS in cell phones, physical address for landline and IP Phones); via MailBox (mandatory phone, government ID, and physical address proof); and via billing (credit card physical address / billing address). They all interlock, and email is being added to the mandatories.
An IP Phone on a data hot spot tether breaks a bit of that. Leveraging a cycle or two of address changes and billing changes could weaken the connection to physically of the Mail Box (but still ties it to a government issued ID). A prepaid money card, after a couple of ‘address washes’, ends up a bit isolated from your bank and any real phone / email; but still has a link back via the mail box to an ID.
All in all, it looks like some degree of private communications can be done; but anonymous mail and anonymous contact are grossly unavailable. Anonymous money only via cash transactions.
That is a far cry from what it was when I was a kid. Mail boxes were available without a “Your Papers Please!” moment. The government did not photo scan and save forever all envelope data (who is mailing to whom). The government did not gather all money transactions and all phone contacts to be used against the citizens at a later time. They did not gather ALL medical data; we had ‘doctor patient privilege’ then. What we have lost is huge.
The foundation of Roe v. Wade, as I understand it, was a finding of “implied right to privacy”. That forbidding abortions would require violating the privacy of the doctor patient relationship. How can that still stand when there is no longer any privacy in the medical record? When there is no “right to privacy” in what you buy, who you call, what your email contains, and what is addressed to you? It seems a bit daft to me to persist in the Schitzo notion that we have an “implied right to privacy” when there is no privacy. So either that foundation is gone (and abortions ought to be gone with it), or that implied right to privacy needs to be reasserted. I don’t see how we can claim both a right to privacy and a complete lack of it; at least not in a sane world.
At any rate, I’ve got a new toy, and had a bit of fun exploring just how intrusive data suckage has become. Still don’t have an address for mail, though. Maybe I can pay for somebody else to get utilities so I can then use that to get a Mail Box ;-) Now if only the Swiss were still doing Swiss Banking like it was in the past…
Oh Well. If I had enough money to care, I’d care more; and if I did anything interesting enough to matter, it might matter. As it stands, the paycheck is gone before the next one arrives and my phone calls consist almost entirely of pleasantries and the occasional “pay the bills” or “did the mail come”. Not exactly the stuff of intrigue. Still, some part of me wants to have my privacy, even if only to hide how humdrum life can be.
So I’ll keep whacking on issues of phones, email, communications, and privacy. For example, it would be fun to marry up some IP telephony software on a Raspberry Pi, with a spigot to a small phone switch, that then sent outgoing calls out again via the Basic Talk. In that way you could do “computer to computer” encrypted calling, with the sporadic ‘incoming’ or ‘outgoing’ to a dialed line still handled over the internet. Add a bit of an onion routing type assignment for what IP Phone was used to place those calls; well, one might be able to fog up some of that Contact Trace info after all. But that will have to wait for another day…