Be a Zebra

Download encryption software, even if you never actually use it.

Camouflage is the best defense, when government turns predatory.

In the past few days I’ve talked to a lot of people who are casting about, looking for one simple action they can take.

Here is one thing you can do in less than two minutes. It’s not a symbol. It’s very real. It doesn’t cost any money. And it might actually save lives.

Even if you never use an encryption app, the simple act of downloading it right now and asking others to do the same keeps activists and whistleblowers safe.

Why? Is it possible to ban an app with 1 million users? Sure.

250 million? No way.

We live in an era of corporate and state surveillance. Most of us assumed this oversight was relatively benign — a mere passive marketing tool, something that could not possibly catch ordinary citizens up in its net — until Wednesday morning, November 9.

I have been spending a lot of time encouraging friends and family to install encryption software on their phones. One such app, known as Signal is free, available for Android and iOs, foundation-funded, and blissfully easy to use.

One response I have heard is, “I have nothing to hide.”

To which my response is, what if things get really bad?

What if the government does indeed start rounding up Muslim Americans and other “suspected terrorists”? What if you join a local #BlackLivesMatter group and it gets infiltrated by provocateurs and informants? The next thing you know, you are getting spied on — and so are many of your Google and Facebook contacts. What if due process goes away? What are you going to do then? Are you going to stand idly by, or are you going to get involved?

Another response I’ve gotten is, “If things get bad, I’ll just buy a burner phone.”

My response is by that point, burner phones will probably be illegal. So may strong encryption software for consumers. Your credit cards and bank account might actually be frozen. Who here has read The Handmaid’s Tale?

The point of envisioning dystopia is not to fuel paranoia; the point is to prepare and take action so that the worst does not actually happen.

There is a time and a place for civil disobedience. Our country was founded on the act of revolution. We revere Martin Luther King Jr. and other nonviolent lawbreakers of the Civil Rights Era. The difference between our time and the 1960s is that it is infinitely easier for the government to access surveillance data in real time, and far more difficult for ordinary citizens to function without cell phone or email.

By taking this simple and low-risk action sooner rather than later, you are protecting more than just yourself and your own circle of contacts. Install encryption software on the phone, and tell others to do the same. Then, by all means, go to rallies, organize working groups, take actions large and small. Rest assured that you will not be putting other activists at risk — or your friends and family. Unlike Google and Facebook, Signal does not store your contacts or any contents of your communication.

Can we depend on large corporate entities to stand up for privacy rights and information security? Remember that both Google and Apple do a lot of business in China. That’s really all you need to know.

Everyone wants to stand out from the crowd. But there are times when it helps to be part of a herd.

Zebras are nearly impossible to tame. They are known for kicking and biting aggressively. They are anything but passive. They rely on their numbers and their distinctive camouflage coloration as an evolutionary success strategy.

Zebras usually travel in large groups, in which they stay very close to one another. Even with their camouflage pattern, it’s highly unlikely a large gathering of zebras would be able to escape a lion’s notice, but their stripes help them use this large size to their advantage. When all the zebras keep together as a big group, the patte­rn of each zebra’s stripes blends in with the stripes of the zebras around it. This is confusing to the lion, who sees a large, moving, striped mass instead of many individual zebras. The lion has trouble picking out any one zebra, and so it doesn’t have a very good plan of attack. Read More.

Those who voted against Trump are the 53% majority. Use that fact to your advantage. When a government turns predatory there is safety in numbers, but only if that crowd can be organized and mobilized. The purpose of this article is to give people safer, better, more powerful tools to weather a worst case scenario. I don’t believe this scenario is foreordained, but neither can I dismiss that possibility as simple hysteria or fearmongering.

Be the change you want to see in the universe. But first, be a Zebra.

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