How to keep a secret

If you’re not doing anything wrong you have nothing to hide.

That’s the reaction I heard from most people after Edward Snowden leaked documents proving the NSA had been logging phone and Internet records of U.S. citizens.

But say you’re not keen on large government organizations keeping track of your YouTube playlist. Well, there’s a way around that.

It’s called The Onion Router, or TOR for short. Type in, click download and you’ll be browsing online anonymously before you can say “right to privacy.”

All computers log an IP address that can be tracked to your street address. But when you use TOR, your IP is run through a system of servers across the globe.

After I logged onto TOR and checked my IP, the cursor on the screen said I was surfing more than the Web. My IP popped up in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

But why browse anonymously?

TOR was built to store sensitive data and as a way for CIA agents, journalists and other people who traffic and tell secrets to communicate and store information worry free. There’s value in privacy as long as you’re doing the right thing.

But it wasn’t long before a noble cause morphed into morally squishy one.

See Dread Pirate Roberts, aka Ross William Ulbricht, founder of the online marketplace Silk Road (Yes, he ripped off his online name from The Princess Bride).

Silk Road is like Amazon for heroin. Dealers across the globe shipped mass quantities of drugs to customers paying with bitcoin, an online currency.

But this summer, FBI agents were able to track down Ulbricht in his San Francisco apartment after he posted his personal Gmail account to an online message board.

Although Silk Road shut down last week, there’s no shortage of deep web merchants dealing everything from illegal handguns to fake IDs and prostitutes.

So how far is too far? On one hand, there’s the NSA and the FBI, and on the other, terrorists, assassins and drug dealers. All we can hope for is to land somewhere in the middle.

And should we be disappointed drug runners and criminals take advantage of anonymity? UW-Eau Claire associate computer science professor Jack Tan said no.

“I’m not surprised,” Tan said. “If you put out sugar, you’re going to attract ants.”

Tan said TOR claims it’s a foolproof way to browse online anonymously, but that may not be the case. We don’t know how much the NSA has their hands on.

Although TOR claimed Ulbricht was caught because he was sloppy, Tan said he’s not convinced TOR is safe. Average citizens don’t know what the NSA has up its sleeves.

“I value privacy,” Tan said. “But at the same time, are we going to be able to catch the bad guys? I think there should be a middle ground. It all depends on where you live and how much you value your life and freedom.”

Tan said for his friends who have lived in Israel, the choice between freedom and security is a no-brainer.

If you’re waiting in line at  an Israeli bus stop, anyone boarding the bus could be strapped with a bomb. So when the government installs cameras and staffs armed guards, no one complains.

There’s something else, too. I briefly browsed TOR last week. Chalk it up to curiosity. The NSA has the ability to see what I’m browsing on the internet, and if I’m researching how to get on TOR, they can safely assume I’m using it.

Although they might not be able to see what I’m doing on TOR, they have the power to watch everything else. And Tan said because I used TOR, I’m probably of more interest to them than most 22-year-old college students.

Plus, leaks this summer prove the NSA isn’t going to sit twiddling their thumbs while they wait for laws to catch up.

Wait. I think I hear someone climbing up my drainpipe.