Edward Snowden: patriot or traitor? Whatever your opinion of Mr. Snowden, he did give us pause to reflect on our Fourth Amendment rights “of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” When contemplating the problem, one must first answer why the Fourth Amendment was considered so important that it needed to be added to the Bill of Rights. Take a moment to read this article by the American Civil Liberties Union and pay particular attention to section “2. More Secret Searches” if you are having trouble answering why the Fourth Amendment was added. If you agree that the Fourth Amendment is important then you have to you have to decide what to do in response to Mr. Snowden’s revelations.

It seems that Americans are afraid of terrorists. What do you suppose are your chances of dying in a terrorist attack? Now for the morbid part--the following are your chances of dying from the top ten causes of death:

1. Heart Disease 1-in-5
2. Cancer 1-in-7
3. Stroke 1-in-23
4. Accidental Injury 1-in-36
5. Motor Vehicle Accident 1-in-100
6. Intentional Self-harm (suicide) 1-in-121
7. Falling Down 1-in-246
8. Assault by Firearm 1-in-325
9. Fire or Smoke 1-in-1,116
10. Natural Forces (heat, cold, storms, quakes, etc.) 1-in-3,357

What are your odds of dying in a terrorist attack? 1-in-20,000,000. Let me repeat: that’s one in twenty-million. Have you ever heard the saying, “the lottery is a tax for people who are bad at math?” The odds of winning, for example, Hoosier Lotto are 1-in-12,271,512. You don’t buy lottery tickets do you? Why not? Because you know the odds of winning are so remote that it’s just not worth wasting money to buy a lottery ticket. Yet you have a vastly better chance of winning the lottery than you have of dying in a terrorist attack. You have a better chance of dying in a tsunami (1-in-500,000), an asteroid impact (1-in-200,000), an earthquake (1-in-131,890), or lightning strike (1-in-83,930). To put things into perspective, think of how many people you know who’ve died in a motor vehicle collision (odds: 1-in-100) and compare that to the number of people you know who’ve died as a result of being struck by lightning (1-in-83,930). Sadly, I’ve known many people who’ve died in motor vehicle accidents but I don’t know anyone—nor do I know anyone who knows anyone—who has died of a lightning strike. There are 20,000,000 lightning strikes in the US each year, yet on average about 51 people per year are killed by lightning strikes. On the other hand, in 2012, 33,561 people were killed in motor vehicle collisions in the U.S.

So, why is there a logical disconnect between reality and American’s hysteria about terrorists? It’s simple. If you depend on American mainstream media for your news, you have a warped sense of reality. There’s a maxim in the news business that goes: “if it bleeds it leads.” In other words, every day, at the top of the news you will see people’s inhumanity to their fellow human beings—the rapings, the stabings, the bludgeonings, displayed in graphic detail, in color, and high definition. And, if you’re a fan of the 24 hour news channels, you can watch the horror show 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Is it any wonder Americans are afraid to leave the house; believing there’s a rapist or terrorist behind every tree?

Take a look at the top 100 most dangerous cities the U.S.. If you live in Tulsa, OK, your chances of becoming a victim of violent crime including, “forcible rape, murder and non-negligent manslaughter, armed robbery, and aggravated assault, including assault with a deadly weapon” are 1-in-100. Tulsans are just as likely to die driving to the grocery store (recall Live Science’s odds of dying in a motor vehicle accident are 1-in-100). Think about that for a moment. The American news media has you convinced there are rapists and terrorists behind every tree yet you never give a second thought to how dangerous it is just hopping in your car and driving to work. Americans have a one percent chance of dying in a vehicle collision--clearly Americans find this an acceptable risk, yet our chance of dying in a terrorist attack is vanishingly small (1-in-20,000,000) so, can anyone explain the One Percent Doctrine?

All you have to do is look back to the history of the twentieth century to find numerous examples of how governments abused technology to gather intelligence on their own citizens and send the ones they didn’t like to gulags and gas chambers. Take a look at this article titled “A History of the Bill of Rights” if you are still unable understand why your Fourth Amendment rights are important. And then read “You May Have ‘Nothing to Hide’ But You Still Have Everything to Fear.” I realize, dear readers, that some of you may not like the ACLU but there are numerous other entities fighting for your privacy and protecting your Fourth Amendment rights.

Here are a few non-ACLU articles on privacy by Daniel J. Solove a professor of law at George Washington University, Danah Boyd a senior researcher at Microsoft Research and a research assistant professor in media, culture and communication at New York University, and Bruce Schneier a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet&Society at Harvard Law School.

After reading the above about your Fourth Amendment rights and knowing that your chances of being killed in a terrorist attack are 1-in-20,000,000 (you’re afraid of terrorists…) compared to your one percent chance of being killed in a vehicle collision (…but you’re not afraid of driving), do you believe that the NSA’s mass surveillance program is justified? If you do, you can stop reading this article now.

If you are still reading then there are some things you can do to take back your privacy. If you must communicate online, use Tor (The Onion Router). Do note, however, the following in the Wikipedia article: “However, an NSA appraisal released by The Guardian in October of that year characterized Tor as "[s]till the King of high secure, low latency Internet anonymity" and that "[t]here are no contenders for the throne in waiting". This likely means that the NSA has some method of stripping anonymity like “EgotisticalGiraffe,” or other hacks, so it may require additional research and learning on your part to use Tor properly for your online anonymity.

If your communication needs are not time sensitive, you can always use offline messaging and data sharing. For offline data sharing you could try USB dead drop file sharing.

For text communications you can use the United States Postal Service (you can drop a letter off at a mailbox with no return address). You can send optical disks, SD memory cards, etc. through the mail as well. While it certainly is possible to surreptitiously open and read your snail mail as demonstrated by the CIA Flaps and Seals Manual, you’ll be able to reclaim your privacy through the sheer impracticality of opening so many envelopes passing through the postal system. Scooping up electronic communications en masse is easy. Intercepting and opening a physical envelope is a little bit harder.

You can add an additional level of privacy using chemistry. There are a number of chemicals that you can use for invisible ink. If you recall my DIY Titration Lab Ware article, you’ll remember that phenolphthalein solution turns pink in the presence of a base. You can thus write a message--for example, the GPS coordinates of your USB dead drop--using a water color brush and ordinary soda water. Then send your invisible message to your friend via us mail. Your friend brushes phenolphthalein solution on your message turning your soda water GPS coordinates pink. Phenolphthalein used to be used as a laxative, but it was discovered that it allegedly causes cancer so nowadays it’s pretty hard to find.

You can instead, use ordinary liquid starch to write your message. When your friend receives your message he or she uses iodine solution to develop your messages turning the starch letters blue.

Often, the problem with using invisible ink is that it is detectable because the letters in glancing light can be shinier than the rest of the paper or if you’re using glossy paper, less shiny than the rest of the paper. You can use an analog form of steganography to hide your secret message. You might take up water color painting. You don’t have to be a good painter. You can paint abstract paintings and create an area inside your abstract art to write your message with your starch invisible ink.

If you like to hack things you can replace the ink in an ink jet printer cartridge with your invisible ink. With a single cartridge printer, you’ll have to run the paper through the printer twice. The first time you’ll print trivial text with normal ink, then replace the normal cartridge with your invisible ink cartridge and print the secret message, say, between the lines of the trivial text. If you are printing a picture, print your picture with normal ink then run the paper through a second time with your invisible ink cartridge locating your message in the negative space of the picture or in an area of the picture where the message will not be obscured by the background picture.

You can even get creative and turn your message into QR code and then print the QR code in invisible ink where it won’t be obscured by the background picture or text. You can even encrypt your message with a book cipher before converting it to QR code. You’ll have to try a few tests to see if the QR code is readable by QR reader software. The QR code may smear or run when developing with a brush so you may need to put your developer chemical in a perfume bottle to atomize it and spray it on with the paper on a flat surface. Also, once developed the QR code may be too faint to be readable by the QR software. If that is the case, you may be able to load the picture into an online editor such as http://pixlr.com/editor/ and adjust the threshold making the background white and the QR code black so the QR software can read the QR code.

You can experiment with various invisible inks. A list of several can be found here. Some can be developed by other chemicals, some by heat, and others will fluoresce under UV light.

But seriously folks, simply using Tor properly for your time sensitive communication and using snail mail for correspondence that isn’t time sensitive should be sufficient to thumb your nose at nosey three letter agencies and corporations. If you are going to use a dead drop, pick a spot that has a nice view or has some historical significance so that you and the people with whom you are corresponding can go outside and enjoy the view or historical/local interest location. If you are going to use invisible ink, do it to learn some chemistry.