NSA Scandal Shows Importance of Offshoring Your Digital Presence

An often overlooked ingredient of internationalization is spreading your digital presence across multiple friendly jurisdictions. This move will help mitigate the political risk of subjecting your personal and business Internet presence to a single, intrusive jurisdiction – like the United States.

A digital presence commonly includes your IP address (which can often pinpoint you to a precise physical address), email account, online file storage, and the components of personal/business websites.

The overreach of the "War on Terror" and heavy-handed copyright laws lend the cover for any US agency to monitor and control your Internet activity. These, and myriad other laws, mean that your personal/business website can be seized at the drop of a hat under the flimsiest of pretexts. Internet service providers in the US work hand-in-glove with the US government.

DuckDuckGo

This quality search engine is an alternative to Google that has essentially the same search results. DuckDuckGo does not store or track any personal information or activity.

Further, if your digital presence is under some form of US jurisdiction, do not assume your Internet activity is private– it isn't. For example, Google logs your IP address while you're online. So your entire search history is essentially stored and archived. And it's not just your search history – every email or other information derived from activity on Google is documented and archived on Google's servers, even if you delete it. And with the US government basically enjoying unfettered access to Google's data, there is literally a treasure trove of personal and business information that is at their fingertips.

Fortunately, it is relatively easy and cheap to move your digital presence across borders where it can dwell in friendlier jurisdictions.

Reasons to Diversify Your Email

  • If you want email privacy, it is prudent to internationalize your inbox and use an offshore email account. Using an email service based in most Western countries provides little, if any, privacy protection. Most, if not all, of the free email services (Gmail, Yahoo, MSN, etc.) are complicit in various government data monitoring schemes. Though there are other jurisdictions that have strong digital privacy laws, Switzerland is a notable standout. In 2010, the Swiss High Court ruled that a user's IP address is personal information and protected by the country's strict privacy laws.
  • If the US government seeks information about your Internet activity, it typically would subpoena the Internet service/email provider directly – if a subpoena is obtained at all. With or without court authorization, you likely will not be aware that the government is investigating you. If your email is hosted offshore, it is a completely different story. The US government would then be forced to work through the legal system of a foreign country. This can seriously impede or prohibit access to your information if your email service provider is based in a country with strong privacy laws like Switzerland.

It's not only governments that want to peer into your inbox. Hackers, identity thieves, advertisers, and others are after your personal information.

An offshore email account is not free, though the fees are generally reasonable. 

Components for an Online Business

Every aspect of an online business can be diversified internationally to lessen the risk of government intrusion and extend its reach to new customers around the world.

Here are the three main components of any online business that can be internationalized:

  1. Payment Processors: There are numerous non-US secure payment processors that will transact payments online. They can process credit card payments in various currencies and transfer the funds to your bank account.
  1. Domain Name: Many businesses use a ".com"or ".net" or other common US-controlled domain name. This exposes your website to the whims of the US government, which is not necessarily shy about seizing domain names. Fortunately, it is easy and cheap to internationalize your domain name by using, for example, the ".co" domain based in Columbia or the ".bz" domain run by an entity in Belize.
  1. Hosting: When operating an online business, you must also consider where your site will be hosted. Non-US options for website hosting include providers in Switzerland, Panama, Bermuda, Malaysia, and Hong Kong. Providers in these countries will typically not respond to US requests regarding a website without a local court order.

Anonymize and Internationalize Your IP Address

Everyone who is connected to the Internet has an IP address that is easily identified, tracked, and in most cases, can literally pinpoint your exact location.

There are tools available, like virtual private networks (VPN), that enable you to, among other things, change your IP address and thus mask your actual physical location. Some VPN providers let you select the country in which it will appear you are based. Although most VPNs are fee-based services, free options are available, albeit with limitations.

One of the easiest and cheapest (it's free) ways to browse the web anonymously is to use Tor.

Tor is a free combination of tools that includes a customized Firefox browser. In addition to anonymous web browsing, if you are in a country that blocks access to certain websites, Tor will get you around this road block. Tor provides an anonymous Internet connection through a randomized proxy where your data is stripped of information that identifies its source, summarized in the graphic below:

Tor is easy to install. It comes as a single download for Windows, Mac, or Linux and is as easy to use as any popular web browser.

There are limitations to using Tor. The connection speed is slow and will significantly limit your ability to download files and watch streaming video.

Conclusion

Diversifying your digital presence is an important part of your overall internationalization strategy. It equips you and your business with significant benefits by reducing the exposure of your digital presence to the whims of bureaucrats. The good news is that implementing these options is cheaper, easier, and faster than most other aspects of internationalization (your savings, your income, and yourself.)

In our Going Global publication we have a comprehensive and actionable section on how to do just that. Whether it’s setting up an offshore email service or cloud file storage, to moving the components of your personal and business websites abroad, using secure encryption, or using a VPN to disguise which country you are accessing the Internet from to get past government blocks, Going Global covers it all.

Nick Giambruno

Nick is Doug Casey’s globetrotting companion and is the Senior Editor of Casey Research’s International Man. He writes about economics, offshore banking, second passports, value investing in crisis markets, geopolitics, and surviving a financial collapse, among other topics. He is a CFA charterholder. In short, Nick’s work helps people make the most of their personal freedom and financial opportunity around the world. To get his free video crash course, click here.

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