Q&A with TAILS on privacy and being labeled extremists by the NSA

TAILS is an operating system that runs from a USB stick. It's optimized for security and privacy, and all traffic is routed through the Tor Network by default.
Digital freedom
2 mins
Tails is an anonymous OS you can run on a USB.

This post was originally published on September 4, 2017.

This blog has never made any attempt to disguise our love of TAILS (The Amnesic Incognito Live System). TAILS is an operating system optimized for privacy and security. It’s easy to use and doesn’t leave a trace on whatever computer you run it on.

You can find some great use cases for TAILS in our guide to anonymous Bitcoin payments, the whistleblowing guide, the pseudonymity guide, to name just a few.

This month Lexie talked to u (yes, that’s their username!), an avid contributor to TAILS. We discussed the NSA, what’s it like to work at TAILS, and online anonymity.

Lexie at ExpressVPN: The NSA has referred to you as “extremists” in one of their internal Documents. While that is a sort of honor, it also highlights there may be dangers working on a platform like this. How do you view this danger?

[u at TAILS]: We don’t think it is extreme to want to protect one’s privacy. We aim to make it easy for people who aren’t very tech-savvy to use TAILS and to make it do the right thing out of the box.

Most notably, TAILS allows secure storage of data while protecting against device seizure and enables circumvention of internet filtering through the Tor network for many protocols—not just web browsing (for example, e-mail and messaging).

We consider TAILS essential to the work of human rights defenders and journalists around the globe, as well as for people who are traveling, or who live in countries where the internet is partially blocked or censored.

Why are you motivated to work on TAILS?

We believe that privacy, the free exchange of ideas, and equal access to information are essential to free and open societies. Read more about this in our Social Contract.

You’ve made tremendous progress making it easier to install Tails, though installation is still far easier if someone uses their working copy to clone TAILS for you. you. How much can you trust a TAILS stick that someone else gives you?

The truth is: you cannot. The only way to know that your TAILS installation is genuine is if you’ve downloaded, verified and installed it yourself onto a new USB key.

We’ve tried to make the verification part easier by creating a Firefox plugin which will verify your TAILS copy. And we’ve reworked in detail our installation instructions, which you may find here.

But we’re aware that installing Tails is still much harder than it should be, especially for people on Windows and Mac. The upgrade mechanism is also still quite hard when no automatic update is available. All these issues are quite high on our list of priorities.

If I need help creating a TAILS stick, where would I most likely find it?

There are crypto parties and hacker events all over the world where people will help you install TAILS. And we’re always looking for people who would create a screencast to explain how to install TAILS on our bug tracker—please get in touch with us if you’re interested in working on this!

Thanks for talking to us!

Lexie is the blog's resident tech expert and gets excited about empowerment through technology, space travel, and pancakes with blueberries.