Behind the hedgerow, eating garbage

The fact that you, at this particular moment on this particular day, are reading this particular blog post about secrecy and surveillance has been recorded and added to your profile. You may now proceed.

Writing in today’s Observer, Nick Rosen provides a list of ten practical recommendations for escaping electronic surveillance by living “out of sight of the system.” When I say “practical,” I’m kidding. Many of the suggestions are absurdly unworkable for normal people. They’re for zealots, cranks and paranoids – people willing to make being semi-invisible a full-time job.

Here’s how Rosen suggests purchasing a cell phone: “Travel to a town you have never visited before, to an area with no CCTV cameras and ask a homeless person to buy a pay-as-you-go mobile phone for you. That way no shop will have your image on its CCTV. You will also have an anonymous mobile … Or dispense with the phone altogether and return to the humble payphone, now the preserve of tourists and the super-poor.”

As for email: “One hacker I spoke to sends emails from cybercafes via The Observer website, using the service which allows anyone to send any article to a friend. He embeds his message into the covering note which goes with the article.” Or you could “work out a private code with friends you want to communicate with.”

To avoid being tracked by utility companies, you should cancel your services and rely on “solar panels and rainwater harvesting.” Rosen notes: “There are tens of thousands of people living without mains power, water or sewerage, in isolated cottages, behind hedgerows in caravans or in groups of yurts in country fields.”

To get food, too, you need to “shop outside the system” if you want to avoid being monitored. You might barter for your groceries on the street, or join the “full-time scavengers living off food retrieved from supermarket bins, because vast amounts of produce are simply thrown away on the eve of their sell-by date.”

As Rosen admits at the end of his article, some of his recommendations will seem “comical.” But by underscoring the difficulty, if not impossibility, of evading surveillance today, Rosen is making his most important point: that we have allowed our lives to become open books for marketers and snoops and that resistance is at this point largely futile. To go “off-grid” now, you pretty much have to turn yourself into a counterespionage operative, a secret agent living in a yurt and nibbling the bruised leaves of a discarded cabbage.

6 thoughts on “Behind the hedgerow, eating garbage

  1. Tom Lord

    When most everyone is easily and constantly surveilled in detail, the few remaining who take evasive maneuvers stand out in crowds, and thus negate their own efforts. Stealth is either a widely shared cultural value or “not an option”.


  2. Bertil

    I believe that Bansky is a very good example of someone who illustrate what is modern privacy: I’m assuming that he doesn’t eat out of garbage cans every day — but he has, privacy-revealing of all modern perks, a website!

    He (and many others, including Fake Steve Jobs for a time, etc.) manages that by having two lives: a normal live, paying bills and being know as “John K. Smith, Jr” and a cell phone that he indeed bought through a tramp, in a unkown city (probably abroad, as all UK sities are now fully CCTVed).

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