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There have been a lot of very big protests in the past year relating to the Internet. There have been battles for Internet freedom and fights for net neutrality. In the midst of all these protests, a lot of US protesters are left unprotected because their mobile phones are subject to sophisticated mobile phone surveillance. Most of these US protesters are ordinary Internet users with limited knowledge and equipment for privacy protection. This is why the EFF put out their first cell phone guide for US protesters in 2011. It has been updated to include this year’s threats in the wake of the recently revealed NSA surveillance tactics. Below are some tips that all involved in various protests can use to secure their mobile phones.
What We Know Now
There have been a lot of changes in the spy world since 2011. We have learned about how deep government surveillance really goes. And we also know how far it has spread. Law enforcement agencies have been requesting massive amounts of mobile phone data. There are entire systems that are devoted to gathering all of this data from the different mobile carriers. They take the content of conversations, and the locations of the callers. Recently, US protesters have become prime targets of phone surveillance.
On the positive side, some action has been taken to curb this mass surveillance on phones. This is because we now know about these activities from fearless whistleblowers like Edward Snowden. Cases involving warrantless searches have been brought to the attention of the Supreme Court. They have ruled that it is unconstitutional, clarified vague laws that allow it, and banned the practice. We have also learned that we have to fight for more digital rights. So far, we have for instance been battling for rulings on the privacy of location data with the help of organizations like the EFF. But because US protesters pose a threat to the powers that be, they are being closely monitored.
Protection for US Protesters
There is still a lot to be done to preserve our freedoms and privacy. But the intelligence community wants to keep their surveillance edge. So the battle rages on, and US protesters have to protect themselves against spy tactics that put them at risk through their mobile phones. Mobile phones play a big role in current protests because they are very handy devices. They are portable and have the ability to do several things. US protesters often carry their mobiles to video events. This is so they can document the events, and also to conveniently share them. They communicate with other US protesters to organize rallies and report events using their phones. This makes their phones a prime target because it holds so much information about what’s happening with protests and what comes next. US protesters have to secure the data that their phones hold, and know what rights they have when the police start making demands.
First, US protesters need to prepare their phones for events. Police can no longer search a phone without a warrant. But in case they do get hold of one, it is still much safer if there’s no sensitive data on it. They can still pull the data from a phone, they just can’t use it as evidence. It would be difficult to prove that they searched a phone, so US protesters are better off keeping their phones clean to avoid the mess. The best option is to use a second phone that is already clean of any sensitive data.
If a clean phone is not available, US protesters need to clean up their phones. Sensitive data is not just pictures and videos of events of chats with protest organizers. This includes contacts, app data, and anything that they can use to track US protesters and predict their movements. It also prevents them from tracking associates and possibly harassing them.
Second, password protection is a must. It cannot prevent the police from getting to the data if the phone is seized. But it can prevent the police from casual searches. If they take the phone, the data can be remotely wiped if necessary. The phone’s lock screen should also be set to activate quickly so no one can do a snatch and grab while the phone is unprotected.
Third, US protesters need to protect data that is transmitted on the phone. Data encryption is a good way to prevent law enforcement from getting hold of sensitive information. This applies to local data and communications. Calls and text messages are not safe. These are recorded by carriers and can also be picked up by any spy equipment that has been set up in the area. US protesters need to set up encrypted channels that can be used at any time. Some social media chats are encrypted, but these can be subpoenaed if the companies behind them keep records. Private apps with a zero-knowledge policy and end-to-end encryption are the best option for US protesters. No one but the protesters can know what they are talking about. Examples that the EFF endorses are TextSecure, RedPhone and Signal from Whisper Systems, Cryptocat, and ChatSecure from Guardian Project. Metadata can still be taken to reveal date stamps, locations and contacts. VPN services help to further secure data to prevent IP tracking and to add another layer of protective encryption.
Fourth, US protesters need to know when to keep their phones and when to leave them in a safe place. Most of the time, US protesters need to have their phones with them. But if they think that they might gt arrested, they need to leave the phones in a safe place, or with a trusted person who can keep them away from the police. But they should always make sure it is password protected and that the lock screen activates quickly.
US Protesters’ Rights
US protesters have the right to take pictures and videos of anything that they can plainly see in or from public places. Note however that the audio portion of a video recording may be regulated under wiretapping laws. The police might try to stop US protesters from recording events, but they cannot make them stop. This right is protected by the constitution. If US protesters are on private property, the owner can say whether or not pictures are permitted. Law enforcement also cannot demand to see pictures or video without warrants. They also cannot delete them no matter what. They might try, however, so US protesters should set up relays to have video feed and pictured upload immediately and directly to a remote server so they can be preserved just in case. The server should be safe and private, of course.
When arrested, US protesters have the right to decline to comment or answer any questions, including what the password to a phone is. They can request to speak to their attorney before talking to the police. If they ask to see US protesters’ belongings, including phones that they might have on them, the request can be declined on the grounds that the US protesters do not consent to being searched. Remember, however, that the police can still take these phones and get warrants later. When released, any property that was confiscated by the police should be returned. If not, US protesters need to take it to court.