avoiding big brother is not all that simple really, as a lot of servers go through american servers which is where a lot of it happens, so first off to help minimise your footprint use firefox, get HTTPS everywhere, Noscript, WOT, Bluhell firewall and Ghostly.
I personally use google still, I just prefer it, I believe duck duck go is a good one but I am unsure fully, I personally dont like it, Avoid yahoo, its a great site but the NSA absolutely love that thing.
Kernel there is only one really, GRSecurity, it gives you PaX patches which alter the memories states such as read only not write, and you get SELinux which is a brilliant tool now installed into every Linux kernel by default.
As for modems build your own, seriously knowing everything that is happening on your router and been able to control it to a major extent is a massive boon to your security, PFSense on a old machine is brilliant.
Hardware there is the Libre X60, a Core 2 duo based Lenovo X60 laptop, its been edited with coreboot and linux by default, very very nice laptop, a bit pricey but it saves you doing any work to the bios, I would also recommend a distro that is full libre, or using something like Arch with Libre kernel, or even debian, use only FOSS software to maximise security and stability in the system, seeing all the code is key to security, hence why firefox is also a brilliant choice to go for browsing, also avoid all proprietary plug ins and software such as adobe and java, this is recommended by default as your system lives better on open source, also use a security scanner like ClamAV and network tools like wireshark and Nmap to see traffic
For a VPN you could build your own, I dont have much knowledge of which is a good VPN these days,
Thats it I am sure zoltan will lend his two cents in also, he generally knows on the best software and OS to be using in Linux.