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Step by step encryption with the updated Email Self-Defense guide

by Zoë Kooyman Contributions Published on Jul 13, 2021 03:08 PM

Email Self-Defense helps fight mass surveillance.

We often hear the sentence "I have nothing to hide," which is an understandable reaction to the myriad ways in which we have been trained to think that it is acceptable to be surveilled, or to have to hand over your information. But we should have the inalienable right to know exactly what data from us, or from our loved ones, is being exposed when using software. We should have the right to view whatever data software is collecting from us, so we can make an informed decision whether or not we want to allow a program into our lives.

In this world of constant bulk surveillance, free software and the four freedoms are a prerequisite for privacy. Because bulk surveillance is so pervasive, free software alone is not enough to ensure safe communications and secure data. The Free Software Foundation (FSF) wants to give you the tools to increase your level of personal privacy. In order to do that, we use a free (as in freedom) program called GnuPG to encrypt our email communication, and we have created the Email Self-Defense guide to help you learn how to do it, too.

This guide will take you through setting up encryption, but it is also the place you can link to when you want to introduce your friend, colleague, or family member to email encryption, regardless of their technical skill level.

If you've been putting off setting up encryption, or know someone who might like your help setting it up, this is a great occasion to do it! It only takes about half an hour with the Email Self-Defense guide.

The FSF introduced the Email Self-Defense guide in 2014, and it has been one of our most popular resources because of its ease of use and its global application. Available in sixteen languages, the guide has helped over 13,500 people protect themselves by setting up and testing their encryption keys. Today, we released an update to the guide to make sure it can continue to empower people in the fight against mass surveillance.

The guide used to lay out the steps to encryption using a program called Enigmail, an add-on to many popular desktop mail clients that is now no longer supported upstream. In the updated version we are introducing today, we went through the steps of creating a PGP (which stands for Pretty Good Privacy) key with the GnuPG (more commonly known as GPG) program in the command line on GNU/Linux, and the nonfree operating systems macOS and Microsoft Windows. It then takes you through integrating your key into your email client, and through testing it with our friendly encryption robot Edward.

Check out the guide, and get started encrypting your email!

By encrypting as much traffic that passes over the Internet as possible, we help subvert the efforts of bulk surveillance systems to spy on our communications. Everywhere in the world, there are journalists, freedom fighters, political activists, whistleblowers, and refugees, who depend on the protective blanket of encryption. You can help protect their anonymity by setting up encryption for yourself.

Not everyone expects the same level of privacy in their lives, but every person we know has a limit to what privacy violations they would allow. And the current state of technology is pushing the boundaries of what we experience as acceptable further, with each line of proprietary code that is written. At the FSF, we know that it is only when we control our system, when we can see the source code of the programs we use, or in other words, by using free software, that we can guarantee privacy. This connection makes encryption both a perfect kitchen table issue, as well as a step in our new campaign, the Freedom Ladder, but perhaps most importantly, it makes it vital that we know how to defend ourselves.

Initiatives like these are important for the continued education of people about free software matters and the tools they can use to protect themselves. Can you deepen your commitment by donating to the FSF? Or, you can join with thousands of like-minded others as an FSF associate member. You can start for as little as $10 per month ($5 for students), or $120 per year, and you'll help us reach our summer fundraising stretch goal of USD 11,000. Even better, every dollar we raise right now will be matched by generous donors. As an associate member, you'll be able to enjoy all of our member benefits, which include merchandise discounts, a 16GB bootable membership card, and use of the videoconferencing server.

Also, if you're on social media, we encourage you to share the importance of free software with your friends and followers by using the #UserFreedom hashtag. It may seem like a small thing, but using your voice is the best way to draw others to the global free software movement.

We hope you will use the guide to set up your own encryption, and to share it with others as well. If you're interested in working on a translation, you can find more information at the GPG Guide page on the LibrePlanet wiki.

Email Self-Defense is a great way to start a free software conversation and get someone to use their first free software program, while protecting themselves. Our freedom is worth fighting for, and every encrypted file we send can be one among many, increasing the force of anonymity.

Illustration Copyright © 2021 Free Software Foundation, Inc., licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.

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