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I'm an atheist visiting a islamic republic where the punishmnent for apostacy may be high.

Is it possible for an ISP to see the websites I might browse or what kind of blasphemous conversations I might have with others over MSN/Yahoo, etc. (which may be related to the forementioned activities).

Is it something I should be concerned about, or is there a negligible chance of this happening? Is there anything I can employ to 'mask' this?

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4  
This will highly depend on your location. –  innaM Aug 17 '09 at 8:23
    
@Manni - Thats True –  joe Aug 17 '09 at 8:28
15  
+1 for atheism –  Jared Harley Aug 17 '09 at 16:14
    
-1 for atheism. –  totymedli Jul 17 '13 at 12:59

8 Answers 8

up vote 16 down vote accepted

Why worry about your ISP? That's just a business trying to make some money, they probably won't bother. It might be much easier to reveal what you've been up to by examining your own computer. Like: which Flash-enabled websites has your computer visited since you bought it?

However, as for your current government administration things may be different. Just a few examples:

  • The Electronic Police State, 2008 National Rankings: 1. China, 2. North Korea, 3. Belarus, 4. Russia, 5. United Kingdom: England & Wales, 6. United States of America, 7. Singapore, 8. Israel, 9. France, 10. Germany, 11. Malaysia, 12. Ireland, 13. United Kingdom: Scotland, 14. Netherlands, 15. South Korea, 16. Ukraine, 17. Belgium, 18. Australia, 19. Japan, 20. New Zealand, 21. Austria, 22. Norway, 23. India, 24. Italy, 25. Taiwan, 26. Denmark, 27. Hungary, 28. Greece, 29. Canada, 30. Switzerland, 31. Slovenia, 32. Poland, 33. Finland, 34. Sweden, 35. Latvia, 36. Lithuania, 37. Cyprus, 38. Malta, 39. Estonia, 40. Czech Republic, 41. Iceland, 42. South Africa, 43. Spain, 44. Portugal, 45. Luxembourg, 46. Argentina, 47. Romania, 48. Thailand, 49. Bulgaria, 50. Brazil, 51. Mexico, 52. Philippines

  • Somebody in London is stopped and searched every three minutes, and while the number of arrests says nothing about the actual threat, so the number of arrests can hardly be used to calculate a "success rate": The Metropolitan Police used section 44 of the Terrorism Act more than 170,000 times in 2008 to stop people in London. [..] Of all the stops last year, only 65 led to arrests for terror offences, a success rate of just 0.035%.

  • New and worse secrecy and immunity claims from the Obama DOJ, Kevin Bankston of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, in an interview with Keith Olbermann: The Obama administration is embracing the same aggressive secrecy arguments that the Bush administration did, and is going them one better, by arguing this incredible immunity argument. By saying that despite the many laws that we have that are meant to restrict the government from wiretapping us or accessing our communications records without warrants, that the US government is immune from any lawsuit for violating those statutes, and essentially eviscerating the privacy rights of millions of ordinary Americans.

  • British cops identify 200 schoolchildren as potential terrorist: 200 children in the UK, some as young as 13, have had files opened on them by the British anti-terror cops as potential terrorists -- even though they have committed no crimes. The children were reported to the anti-terror squad by their teachers on the basis of school work, journals and conversations that, in the teachers' view, indicated that the children were susceptible to extremist beliefs. The programme is only 18 months old and has already identified 200 children who should be treated as terrorism suspects. At this rate, every child in Britain should be on the watch list by, what, 2018?

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You can always route your internet traffic in encrypted channel. Depending on your background, Tor or SSH tunnelling might be the easiest (with the latter being better performance-wise).

I think that you should seek some more professional legal advice about situation in your target country. If there's a risk that your online activities might be controlled, then it's also likely that attempts to use secure channels will make you look suspicious.

Why not take a break from the Internet? Or at least some parts of it that you feel concerned about?

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Its just conversations with friends I'm concerned about, wouldn't want them to see those –  Click Upvote Aug 17 '09 at 8:11
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Have you thought about using IM network that uses secure cryptography by default? I don't know which ones qualify and which ones do not. –  Tadeusz A. Kadłubowski Aug 17 '09 at 8:25
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+1 For Tor –  Johan Aug 17 '09 at 9:56
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+1 I use SSH tunneling to my house to get around China's blocks when I'm there. –  endolith Oct 22 '09 at 19:42

The answer to that question is: Yes. That has nothing to do with your location, that is simply how the internet works: Unencrypted Protocols send their data in clear text, and anyone in between can read it, so yes, your ISP can read everything you send unencrypted. In fact, sometimes they are forced by the government to do so (for example the FBI uses Carnivore, Germany is working in their Bundestrojaner, and pretty much every other country is having some sort of monitoring/surveillance system as well).

As said, using an SSL Tunnel would be a way, although of course it's also a great way to raise suspicion as well.

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All your information and browsing goes through your ISP, so technically they could monitor everything you do on their network. This can be easy or hard depending on if the traffic is encrypted or non-encrypted.

There is not a high probability that they would monitor you. But, you may trigger an audit if you start a lot of specific traffic they watch closely. Some watch P2P traffic closely and implement Quality Of Service rules to handle them for example. So a simple rule is do not give them a reason to flag your account and investigate further.

EDIT: Manni brings up a point about location. Laws vary from country to country, so some countries might be more prone to monitor their users depending on the law books and government. (coughchinacough)

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Thanks. How much traffic would you consider 'a lot of'? –  Click Upvote Aug 17 '09 at 8:13
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How can you say that "there is no high probability"? You don't even know in which country Click Upvote lives. –  innaM Aug 17 '09 at 8:25
    
@Click Upvote There is no way to know what exactly is a lot. Some ISP'd have defined caps on bandwidth, some have certain rules. It really depends on the location and ISP used. Bottom line is you are using someone else's services. –  Troggy Aug 17 '09 at 8:55

Checking the "this" where you are, YES! You could be at risk, although it might not be all that bad. First of all, make sure you show respect for the customs and laws of the country where you're in. Remember that an ISP can always look into your internet data and the only thing that would restrict them would be the privacy laws of the country where you're at. If it's a state-owned ISP then this privacy might be non-existent. Could you bypass this by somehow encrypting your data-stream and connecting to a foreign proxy? Yes, you can, but the ISP would notice and might become more curious about why you'd want to do this. You would make yourself even more suspicious.

Now, with regular Internet, you would be generating a lot of traffic together with millions of other people from the same country. If the ISP is indeed monitoring your traffic, it's unlikely that they will monitor everything. It's more likely that they have set up a filter which detects unusual behavior and/or certain keywords. Use a lot of those keywords and they could pick you out for further investigations, even without you knowing about. (And using Tor or SSH tunneling would make you more suspicious!) Be aware that those triggers would be more related to political topics than religious ones. They don't care if you're an atheist. They care more about your political views and if you don't disagree with the current politics too much, they'll probably won't even bother to check upon you, unless you give them reasons to.

Feel free to chat online with friends, just avoid the more sensitive topics. (Especially politics!)

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Take a look at the website of the Open Net Initiative. They "investigate, expose and analyze Internet filtering and surveillance practices in a credible and non-partisan fashion".

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I guess , this is not correct answer for this question –  joe Aug 17 '09 at 10:53
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Why was this downvoted, it seemed on topic and interesting? –  Jeremy French Aug 17 '09 at 10:53
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Why the hell not? –  innaM Aug 17 '09 at 16:14
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"because" is not really convincing. How about "Because I said so"? –  innaM Aug 17 '09 at 16:50
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I think it's VERY relevant. I assume the this of the questioner is listed on that web site and hence can provide good insight. –  Arjan Aug 23 '09 at 9:45

If you are concerned about others seeing what you write in Live Messenger, etc., you could try something like Simp. It suports MSN, Yahoo!, ICQ, AOL instant messenger, Jabber and Google Talk clients according to their website.

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OTR is another good resource. –  Josh Aug 9 '10 at 13:24

Yes they can see what you do, if you are worried about people seeing what you look at, don't look at it. Things like Phorm, do this to sell advertising. In some countries (including the UK) the ISPs are required by law to keep a log of what you do to help law enforcement.

There are ways to try and hide what you do, anonymising proxies for example. Skype is supposedly encrypted. But using such things may just make you seem even more suspicious.

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