With the U.S. in hot water over its far-reaching surveillance operations (heck, even China has complained), TIME looks at a few ways you can avoid spying, in the virtual and real world, with tips from activists, news hounds, ex-intelligence personnel and resourceful regular Joes.
1. Manage Your ‘Digital Shadow’
Since the National Security Agency allegations relate to online spying, it’s worth starting with the information you’re leaving behind when you use your phone or go online. The website, Me and My Shadow, created by the nonprofit Tactical Tech, has a comprehensive tool kit that is used by investigative journalists and rights activists to protect their Internet connections against surveillance and keep track of their digital trail. Top tools include iPhone Tracker, which maps the information your iPhone or iPad collects about where you’ve been, and Image MetaData Stripper, which as the name suggests, allows you to remove information like dates and locations that are hidden inside picture files. For other tactics, check out PixPipeline for sharing images anonymously, and Cryptocat, for a free, secure chat service and a good alternative to those offered by big name brands like Facebook, Skype and Google. Forbes has a list of some additional online tools.
2. Ditch the ‘Spy Phone’
Perhaps even more worrying than phone companies knowing where you’ve been, is that these firms may soon be able to accurately predict where you will go in the future by cross-referencing your geo-data with that of your friends, according to new research from the U.K. So turn off mobile devices if you’re heading somewhere sensitive and, to be extra safe, remove the battery. If you really don’t want to be traced, use cash to buy prepaid cell phones and phone cards that don’t require you to register personal details.
3. Scramble Electronic Bugs
It seems like almost every public space is fitted with surveillance cameras these days. An old trick used by antiestablishment groups to evade video-surveillance systems is to “blind” cameras by pointing a laser beam or flashlight directly into the lens. Artist Adam Harvey has also created a line of clothing to fool cameras. It includes a hoodie made of metallic reflective fabric that conceals your body’s thermal output, a hairstyle and makeup guide for disguising a person’s face, and a purse with extra-bright LED lights to wash out unwanted photographs. If you’re worried about more high-tech bugs, there’s a whole range of equipment out there like audio jammers, white-noise emitters and GPS monitor detectors that can scramble recording devices.
4. If Someone Is Following You, Use Common Sense
When it comes to being followed in person, ex-CIA agent Boris Korczak says all countersurveillance methods rely on “using your head.” If you think a car is tailing you while you’re driving, Korczak says, you should use your mirrors to keep an eye on the vehicle and slow down as much as possible. A regular driver will pass you. If you’re on foot and suspect you’re being followed by a car, Korczak suggests jumping on the nearest bus. You’ll know if you’re being tailed if the car breaks at every bus stop.
5. Catch Intruders Red-Handed
If you’re simply worried about people snooping through your belongings, how-to-video producer Kip Kedersha has some handy tips for making booby traps using household items.