Dateline: Wroclaw, Poland
Communities here in Europe are still fuming over the breach of trust by their “friends” in the United States. The NSA, which spied on citizens of foreign countries up to and including heads of state, has cost the United States plenty of support.
No matter where you live, the need to detach where you live from where you store your sensitive data is increasingly important.
Let’s acknowledge a few things:
- The US government (and others) can easily circumvent your privacy in the name of “national security” or any other excuse they want
- The US government is more than happy to side step the process of law – or change existing laws – that might protect your privacy (After all, in government logic, everything Hitler did was “legal”)
- The US government can and will involve any US corporations necessary to assist them in removing your privacy, so far as prosecuting corporations that don’t give them access to your sensitive data.
With all of that said, do you think Google is going to protect your sensitive data if the US government asks them to hand over the keys to your email account?
Of course not.
Recently, reports have alleged that the NSA was behind the Heartbleed bug that compromised the passwords of practically every internet user on planet earth. It’s no secret that spy agencies are doing anything they can to aggregate as much of your personal data as possible.
Heck, the NSA is spying on Germany. (Score one for “allies”)
These are all reasons why you need an offshore email account.
I’m not an alarmist, but frankly, in today’s era of endless Big Brother surveillance, it’s hard to not want to take precautions. While my “MO” is to advocate in favor of countries with more freedom more than against the bankrupt west, the threats all of these trends put on your privacy are very real.
Consider a situation we talk about here frequently. Let’s say you are emailing back and forth with an immigration attorney in St. Kitts and Nevis, working toward an economic citizenship.
You are using a personal Gmail address; your lawyer is using a local ISP in St. Kitts and Nevis (or privately-hosted email on a non-US domain name). Your lawyer is taking steps to preserve your privacy; you are not.
Because merely using any of the free US email services means the NSA and a litany of other goons are reading your emails. Get used to it.
Now, if you don’t mind effectively sending a letter to the government telling them of your expatriation plans, you have nothing to worry about. But for many, the idea that their government is reading every word they write – whether they like it or not – is quite troubling.
For example, when Yahoo! was asked about its cooperation with the NSA, it replied “No comment”.
Even for companies that don’t want to comply with the growing surveillance state, the government will often exert its will. Encrypted email service Lavabit was essentially forced out of business by the NSA last year after they refused the spy agency “back door” access to customer data.
Just as you have an offshore bank account to prevent some judge from freezing your assets before you’re proven guilty of any crime, having an offshore email address gives you the freedom to break free from the lack of privacy available in the United States.
Just as in the Soviet Union or any other tyrannical regime, Big Business is all too happy to be in bed with Big Government in exchange for all the benefits of crony capitalism they receive from doing so. They could care less about your privacy as long as their unfettered access to bend Obama’s ear remains intact.
And if you think Canada is some form of free speech zone, think again. In addition to being best buddies with Uncle Sam, the Canadians have long-standing data-sharing policies with both the US and the UK. Be wary of any “offshore email” providers operating in Canada.
As usual, I believe you should “plant your flag” as far from the United States (or whichever bankrupt country you live in) as possible. I also believe that hosting things like email in small, “insignificant” countries off the radar is best. If you can find an offshore email service with servers in the middle of the Indian Ocean, go for it.
How do I set up an offshore email account?
There are several ways to go about offshoring your email.
1. Have your own offshore website.
The first way is to set up your own domain name (like nomadcapitalist.com) with a “top level domain” based outside of the United States. The US government has claimed that any “.com”, “.net”, “.org”, and “.us” domains are under their authority because the company that handles those domain registries is based in Virginia.
Fortunately, there are hundreds of other “top level domains” you can use to get your own website, and with it, your own email address. You may be familiar with “.co.uk” in the United Kingdom, or “.com.au” in Australia. Each country has their own domain extension.
For example, I own www.andrew.re; the “.re” is the domain extension of Réunion, a French territory in the Indian Ocean. Considering that Réunion is a department of France, it probably isn’t the best place if you want to use your offshore email account to foment against the French government or make racist comments which are illegal under French law. But you get the picture.
You are likely already familiar with offshore domain extensions but didn’t know it. For example, the popular “.me” domain is actually managed by Montengro, while “.la” domains – marketed to Los Angeles businesses – are actually based in Laos.
You can register an offshore domain name at sites like Only Domains, which is based in Australia and New Zealand. They have any number of offshore domains, and you can probably get something cool like my www.andrew.re address. (One blogger named Matt used Trinidad and Tobago’s domain extension to get www.ma.tt).
Then, simply host your new domain with an offshore web host for around $30 a year and you can set up as many email addresses as you want.
2. Use a hosted offshore email service.
If you’re not technical, or if you don’t fancy having “[email protected]”, then consider a hosted offshore email account. Plenty of companies offer them, although they’re not all the same.
One of the amusing things about offshore services in the internet age is that many of the services offering anonymity and privacy are based in Russia. While there are much better options, I like the fact that Russia is more than happy to stand up to the United States and put them in their place.
One new service that offers “zero knowledge” privacy is called Lavaboom. Named after the shuttered Lavabit, which shut down last year after the company declined the NSA’s carrot and instead got the stick, Lavaboom promises free accounts with limited storage and up to 1GB of storage for a few bucks a month.
My favorite company doesn’t offer a free offshore email service, but they do “get” the Nomad Capitalist vibe. In fact, I have numerous friends who vouch for the owners of this service.
The company that really gets the idea of “flag theory” and secure email is a company called JumpShip. Their JumpMail service is run entirely on secure protocols and on secure servers. Every single page.
The guys who run JumpShip understand the type of international diversification we talk about at Nomad Capitalist. In fact, they live it; their email servers are based in Switzerland (where your email is hosted), while their company is based in Hong Kong.
When choosing an offshore email provider, you want to make sure none of the supply chain is based in your home country (or the United States, no matter where you live). The Patriot Act is a blunt instrument used by the US government to hit anyone over the head and get access to your data.
That means any US data center or US company involved in the process makes the whole effort a waste of time.
Many services charge a fee for their service, but I think it’s worth it for the security it offers. There are plenty of free anonymous email services like HMAMail, but many seem a bit clunky to me. I prefer an ease of use with a company that does this for a living, not some libertarian running a server in his basement.
Do keep in mind that in addition to an offshore email address, it works better if you yourself are offshore. If you can’t be, consider using a VPS.
Anyone who has gotten personal emails from me knows I use a Gmail account for less sensitive emails, including promotions. I’m not saying you should entirely jump ship from your free email provider, but if you have mission critical or sensitive emails, you should know the risks you’re getting into with free services.
Just remember: the Land of the Free is a land of crony capitalists all too eager to do the NSA’s bidding in exchange for favors from the political elite. That includes trampling all over the Constitution and your privacy.