Jason is a Private Person (A Story)

Listen to the audio version of this story here.

Dear fellow privacy seekers,

Jason is a private person. He lives a life of minimal invasion and maximal freedom. On Tuesday morning he wakes up and goes to the other room to begin his day. He keeps no electronic equipment in his bedroom—no sleep monitors or Fitbits or phones or Amazon Alexas. He’s a human and not a piece of data to be analyzed. He walks to the kitchen to prepare some drink and food. None of his appliances are “smart”; his frig doesn’t track what he eats to order more and his coffee machine doesn’t remember what temperature he likes it at. The future these gimmicks embody Jason sees as particularly useless and he has no interest in voting for such “innovations” with his money. Finding and repairing “dumb” appliances has made him smarter, strengthening his engineering skills and saving him money along the way. A heightened self-reliance in many aspects of life has honed his mental health and peace of mind in a way unfathomable to most people.

After breakfast Jason spends time reading a physical book and then in quiet reflection. He recognizes that privacy is about protecting the sacred private self and that most modern people are unfortunately collages of borrowed thinking, Netflix personalities, and video game lingo: all imposed externally and not generated internally. He does not blame these people: double ignorance—ignorance of being ignorant—is as damning a condition as it was in Socrates’ time. He himself was in that position once and is still vulnerable. So he tries to remember that the mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled.

Only after time alone does Jason expose himself to the world. He moves to his desktop computer in the corner of the room to check some news—email he wisely saves for two specific times later in the day. His well-built PC runs a Linux operating system and plugs directly into his physical Internet router with a built-in VPN. There’s no Wi-Fi in his house since Jason prefers the security and reliability of a wired connection—to say nothing of its potential health benefits. And as he requires no wireless signals he has optimized his house to block out such frequencies with specialized paint and fabric surrounding his bed. To some this sounds crazy—and so he doesn’t talk about it—but the security checks out and the health benefits he intends to test for himself. What is privacy if not blocking out invasions of our physical body and through the walls of our own home?

Jason never sits down to his computer without a clear plan of what he will use it for. He is the master of his technology and not the slave. His minimalist-optimized computer helps him along this path. He has very few programs downloaded and regularly purges those he does have. All of his files exist in three folders on his desktop, ready to be encrypted and transferred at any given moment and never in a position to distract him. His forgetful and locked-down Internet browser demands fresh log-ins for each website each time and are supplied by his offline password manager. He seeks things out when he needs them, and not the other way around. And for every second of convenience this costs him he gains minutes back of his life from distraction. Jason has distinct log-in credentials for each account he owns and uses burner email addresses for temporary online events. He makes use of adblocking browser add-ons, has no home page, and otherwise refuses to fall victim to the refined and psychologically manipulative marketing the defines the Internet today.

Unlike most people, Jason doesn’t have a job to go to. By honing his clarity of mind outside of the white noise of popular culture he was able to come up with a simple business idea or two that freed him permanently from the rat race. This allows him to interact with the world on his own terms. His main income is run through a legal entity that goes into the spotlight instead of him. Because his business is location independent, he can work wherever he wants. And since Jason passes through places like a ghost any authorities would be hard-pressed to find proof of a residence for him.

Jason grew up in Australia but is living, for now, in Vietnam. He has severed ties with his home country—even developing a North American accent to throw people off—and now travels the world. He holds multiple passports, protects his intellectual and physical property in different countries, and has come to the realization that privacy and freedom are inextricable from one another. His expatriation isn’t a matter of anti-patriotism; on the contrary, Jason feels for his country and wants it to succeed. It is precisely for this reason that he made the decision to boycott it and live elsewhere, paying taxes elsewhere, until Australia reduces or eradicates its civilian surveillance, stops banning encryption by the force of government, and otherwise rejects the authoritarian path it is on. Unlike native Australians still propping up the system with their tax dollars, Jason is one of the few people making a difference for the country. Instead of political protest and the signing of petitions—which does little except get one documented—Jason performs actual protest: protest by boycott.

Clear, directed thinking has elevated Jason above the digitally-mesmerized consumerist crowds. He is now respectably wealthy and has no problem spending money when he wants to. Still, when he drives he chooses to use an eight year-old Toyota to avoid attention and lawsuit-seekers. The car is registered to a business entity with an address far away. Inside his car there are no documents that belong to Jason; indeed, the same is true—for the most part—of his house. Jason follows many traffic laws so as not to bring unwanted attention and be extorted by policing agents using euphemistic nonsense terms like “civil forfeiture.” A free and private life, he knows, involves having restraint and following more of the evil rules than he would like. Knowing the kind of world he lives in Jason often takes public transportation and has other people drive for him—paying in cash, always—to avoid liability and exposure.

Despite not having to “clock in” at an office, Jason likes some stability in his life. He goes to his favorite coffee shop to send off a few emails under a different IP address and plans for the upcoming month. The cashier asks for a loyalty card, which he doesn’t have; as a loyal customer he always pays full price. He does so in cash and gives his name as “Emil,” which is a common name from the area. The new barista is into him and Jason flirts back momentarily; providing a fake name makes him more confident and more open with people. Wearing masks and creating personas has made him more social and more authentic.

Jason is aware of the increased presence of cameras wherever he goes. He has tried experimental sunglasses that defy facial recognition and other such tools, but instead chooses to counter this epidemic by thoughtful route-making and by pulling up by vehicle exactly where he needs to be. He has yet to attempt to defy gait analysis by putting rocks in his shoes to affect his walk; such thoughts remind him of his moderating philosophy of privacy: the techniques should not go to the painful extreme for the sake of it. He does carry with him an extra large COVID mask—for extra social responsibility—that he dons at strategic moments. He is also not averse to wearing hats that block significant portions of his face and he doesn’t go out of his way to stand in front of cameras in stores or anywhere else. Broadly speaking, his strategy is to live in places that can’t afford cameras or that wouldn’t allow them to begin with.

Jason doesn’t rely on his phone for everything—in fact he rarely even needs it. His laptop computer—running a Linux distribution, of course—offers similar functionality with a headset and various applications that grant a legitimate phone number without the geolocation surveillance that is inescapable from phones. He doesn’t remember the last time he took his phone off of “airplane mode” and is usually momentarily surprised by a new app that is trending, and which he is glad he missed. In addition to their baked-in surveillance, phones, Jason realizes, are the prime instrument for eviscerating technological literacy, training people to press increasingly large buttons to perform increasingly trivial tasks while all of the real computation happens in the background. Following Aristotle’s advice of focusing on the “why” and not simply the “what,” Jason has trained himself to understand computer coding, which helps him to understand the systems around him and not merely experience the final colorful illusion of the magician’s sleight of hand.

In the coffee shop Jason overhears a man talking: “This app tracks my purchases and helps me budget and save money. I don’t know what I would do without it.” Again Jason recognizes the profit model for such an app: the man’s purchase history will be shared with others. But he also refuses to participate in credit card culture, a decision that makes him the real saver since card users spend 10% more on average. Of course he skips the bank surveillance as well which, coupled with government partnership, has crushed privacy in its fascistic grip. If the man were his friend he might talk about the beauty of simplicity—of using memory and simple documentation tools—and the irrelevance of 99% of digital products, which represent a near complete waste of human intellect and energy. More third party applications in one’s life, Jason recognizes, are vulnerabilities, surveillance add-ons, and almost always unnecessary.

Jason takes a break from work to buy a few new linen shirts online for the upcoming Vietnamese summer. He prefers to shop in person where he can pay cash, but when he shops online he uses a combination of gift cards—purchased in cash—or burner debit cards which allow him to pay legitimately but with a fake billing name and address. He uses Bitcoin or privacy coins when offered and increasingly buys things through a cryptocurrency transfer service, which buys items for him in fiat currency and consequently opens up his options. When he does shop online he has his goods shipped to an address in the neighboring city which he visits once a week. Jason never gives his real name or any real information besides a legitimate payment method when shopping online.

Jason has a good few friends and a strong sense of enjoying life while producing value for others. He is an avid reader, preferring physical books when he can get them. As a constant traveler he does rely on e-readers, but arranges his e-reader (not a Kindle) so no one knows what he’s reading and what page he’s fixated on. He almost always meets his friends at their house, and rarely gives out his home address, if ever. Jason has given up social media and is more social and more informed of “media” as a result. He is much happier and, of course, much more private.

Jason stays informed about what is happening in the world. He doesn’t let it faze him, but he does like to stay arm’s length away. Knowing that a lot of the mainstream media has become corrupted, he spends much less time on them than he used to. Besides, anything whose value can expire is of secondary importance. So now he spends more time on the fundamentals. He reads history, philosophy, literature, and observations of culture, finance, and developments in technology and science. Knowing the fundamental psychology of psychopaths means he does not have to pay attention to much of the latest news coming from some political group or another. And being conversant in history means he has an idea of which countries will started hating one another and how things might progress. He expects this to happen and is pleasantly surprised when it is delayed. But this does not mean Jason is a determinist. He tries to alter the trajectory of the world in his work. He always has a plan of escape from his town, city, and country. He doesn’t just talk about a plan but actually has one. It involves a boat, a robust network, and a planned-out route various exits. He has learned and practiced living off the grid and is prepared to do so in the unlikely event that it gets that far.

Yours in peace and privacy,

Gabriel Custodiet

The Watchman Guide to Privacy