If we've learned anything from the last few years, it's that given the opportunity to snoop on or scarf up our data or our metadata, criminals, business, and governments have a lot in common. They may have different ends that drive why they want to look at our email and transactions, listen in to phone calls, track with whom we communicate, and follow our location, but it all involves a lack of consent.
We can take action into our hands and reject their assault on our privacy by encrypting as much of our data as we can, mostly in transit when it's at its most vulnerable. Tools have never been more powerful, and we've never had as many options from which to choose. It's about to get even better.
FBI Director James Comey complained in September that iOS 8 and the latest versions of Google's Android enable encryption so strong, the FBI can't break it easily or at all. As is so often and so tediously the case, Comey trots out terrorists, pedophiles, and other criminals, who represent a vanishingly small percentage of all mobile users, as the reason to compromise everyone's security.
So far, Apple and Google haven't budged, likely because their users are happy to hear about their stance. Tim Cook has spoken quite strongly about the need for technology users to control what and how their data are accessed by others — including governments.
But there's certainly more we can do. The Internet was developed in a ridiculously open fashion, because it was designed by and for academics, and it still retains many vestiges of that behavior. Some of this used to be related to processing power: encrypting and decrypting information in real time as it speeds among devices and through routers was once much more expensive than it is today. Custom chips and circuits, such as is built into iOS hardware, reduces the computational overhead and cost. A large percentage of Web servers are hosted on hardware that can easily handle all traffic running through HTTPS without a hitch. There's really no excuse for an information provider to avoid offering a secure method.
What you can do right now
On a Mac or in iOS, you have a lot of options service by service or overall.
Use a VPN. A virtual private network connection puts an encrypted wrapper around every bit of data between your hardware and a termination point elsewhere on the Internet. Companies have long used VPNs that terminate inside a more heavily protected corporate network. But any individual can hook up with Cloak, TunnelBear, AnchorFree, and many others. (I wrote an overview of VPNs back in 2012 for Macworld.)
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.