Keeping your laptop “clean” of any compromising or graphic material can actually save you time in jail.
When six young men, students aged between 19 and 23, were sentenced to three years in prison for gay sexin Tunisia, one of them got an additional sixth months in jail for “indecent exposure”*. The police had found on his computer what they deemed as incriminating videos. It remains unclear if that meant the videos contained graphic visuals of the youth engaging in sexual activities.
That additional sentence could have been avoided.
The immediate first reaction is that such content should not have been saved on his laptop in the first place. If you want to keep sensitive material like this, you can always store it on a hard drive or a CD/DVD that you carefully hide from prying eyes.
And if you decide to keep sensitive material on your laptop for practical reasons, make sure at least to encrypt it, i.e. convert data into cipher or code that prevents unauthorized access.
One open-source software helps you achieve this: VeraCrypt. VeraCrypt is a free disk encryption software developed by IDRIX and that is based on TrueCrypt 7.1a, another popular encryption software which we are not advising to use anymore because it is not being maintained.
Once you download it, VeraCrypt allows you to create encrypted containers in which you can store your private or secret files. The container will look like a normal file with any extension you want (word, video, picture etc.).
The container you create will be encrypted so no one without the password can access its content. You can save this encrypted container on your computer, a USB or an external hard drive. It is also possible to create a hidden folder within this container for extra secure ways to hide material. Neither the content, nor the size of this hidden folder will be visible.
For further information on encryption, including that of the entire disk system, visit the following link. (The steps to be followed for VeraCrypt are the same as described for TrueCrypt).
One important thing to keep in mind is that when you simply delete a file on your computer, it does not vanish. You need to take extra steps to make sure that it won’t, for instance, be retrieved by a tech-savvy person.
For Windows users, a number of open source programs give you several options to safely and permanently erase files from your computers. One of them is BleachBit, You can download it for free and it allows you to quickly free your disk space securely and guard your privacy. An alternative, also free but not open source, is CCleaner.
For Mac users, you can also use CCleaner to permanently delete files from your trash bin without leaving any traces.
Now if you are simply browsing through websites with gay content and not really saving any files on your computer, make sure you immediately erase the browser’s history. It might sound inconvenient but it will play against you if authorities find out you have been visiting sites with LGBTI-related content.
You can learn here how to clear the browsing data.
An even better option to surf the Internet without leaving traces is: private browsing. Your browser will not remember any website you open in private windows (or incognito windows on Chrome). In Chrome and Firefox, you can open these types of windows under the File tab. In Safari, you can choose the option of private browsing under the Safari tab in the main menu.
Another advantage of private browsing is that the browser then doesn’t store your search history, which can be very important in case you don’t want others to know you looked for words like STD or gay on Google or other search engines.
If you suspect that your online communications are under surveillance by authorities, you can use Tor to prevent others from learning what sites you visit, watching your internet connection or knowing your physical location.
Tor is a free and open source software that you can download here.
How Tor works is by protecting you against a common form of Internet surveillance known as “traffic analysis.” Traffic analysis can be used to track your behavior and interests. Tor distributes your online transactions and activities over several points on the Internet making it hard to pinpoint what you are doing online.
* In a latest development, an appeals court has released on bail the six defendants.