“Well, see, I came across this post on Twitter about how much of your stuff Windows 10 logs, so I just… stayed up most of the night trying to install a bunch of Linux distros.”
My therapist is thankful for a lot of things about me. I’m alcohol intolerant, so I’m, as she puts it, “not a substance abuse risk”. Promiscuous sex would require me to leave my apartment and interact with people. But it means some of the symptoms of my anxiety, CPTSD, or what we’re treating as a sort of borderline Borderline Personality Disorder – symptoms that are a sign of problems that need to be addressed – are hard to identify as such. For instance, we have determined that I spent a weekend trying to get the root install on my phone just right because I was being super avoidant. Some people drink. I tinker.
And sometimes we have these conversations in which I pick apart the complex distinctions between being a huge nerd and being dangerously paranoid, and consider where in the midst of all that I fall.
As personal information security goes, I’m still very much a hobbyist. I’ve written a few articles for my local alternative paper about the basics of online privacy, securing your phone before going to a protest, that sort of thing. Before Linux, I had my laptop set to decrypt from a USB drive so it wouldn’t boot if that drive wasn’t plugged in. I use an encrypted service for cloud backups.
(“How often do you back things up?” she asked. “Oh, it’s a constant passive backup, it’s always running,” I told her. “But not Dropbox, oh no, did you know Condoleeza Rice is on their Board?”)
To understand gun rights advocates, you have to understand the vigilante fantasy that drives them, that fantasy that someday they will get to save the day with their guns. And I realize it’s not unlike that, a fantasy that someday there will be a catastrophe of some kind and I will be ready. I will not be the man running back into his burning apartment because his laptop has the only copy of his life’s work.
But the real question she had was whether I genuinely think any of this will be necessary. Am I tinkering, or am I catastrophizing? (You know, like I do with every single other thing in my life.) And that is more complicated than rooting a phone.
Because me, personally? I write for a man who has been aggressively investigating Ohio’s voting irregularities, who may well have been the cause of Karl Rove’s breakdown on Fox News in 2012. I am a lesbian in a country whose current president is BFFs with a foreign power that’s totally cool with putting gay men in concentration camps.
A year ago, I would have said that maybe – maybe – I had a good old-fashioned FBI file, but only by association. But the idea that if you’re doing nothing wrong you have nothing to hide assumes that “wrong” is a constant, and unless you’re a straight white man, it turns out that the barrier between right and wrong is a lot more fragile than most of us thought possible.
Even now, I wouldn’t go so far as to say I genuinely believe I’m under surveillance. My problem with Windows collecting my data has as much to do with morality as privacy. But there are people in power in this country who would see me put in jail – maybe even a concentration camp – for things I’ve legally done. Is it paranoia if they really might be out to get you?