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protest tips for smartphone security

Protest Tips: Smartphone and Digital Security

If there’s one thing that the current US administration has done, it’s increase the need for protest tips. People are taking to the streets by the thousands, and by the millions across the country and globe. Protesting in the 21st-century, however, is a bit different thanks to one piece of technology we all have in our pocket: smartphones.

We all want to think of smartphones as something that only helps us. We use them to organize our protests on Facebook, Twitter, and other online platforms. As it is with most digital tools, the convenience goes both ways. Your smartphone is also a convenient way for police to track you, and find out what you’re doing. If you think it isn’t happening, you are on the wrong side of the protest.

Protest tips for smartphones

Why do we need to protect ourselves?

The increased use of digital crowd surveillance is becoming an epidemic. Even those protesting the simplest of things, with the most support, can be tracked using controversial devices called stingrays. These are used at both the local and federal law-enforcement level.

What these tools do is trick your smartphone into connecting with it instead of your local cell tower. The tool then intercepts all of your identifying information and tracks your movements. They are not as exotic as they sound, here is a photo of one:

The scariest thing of all of this is that the laws on whether or not the police need a warrant to use one of these is unclear. Laws of vary from state to state. Can you believe the times that we live in? It’s possible that the police do not need a warrant to commit mass surveillance where YOU live. This fact alone is enough reason to need protest tips, we should be protesting these tools!

Why would the police use these tools?

There are a few reasons why the police would want to use stingrays. The most likely is for them to find out trends of who attends certain events and protests, and tracking them later on. Tracking people who show up at a perfectly peaceful protest …doesn’t sound like a police state at all, does it? No, wait, it does…

The other reason why police would want to use these tools is so that they can block service in the local area. This will impede the protesters. Even if they don’t put a complete block on it, they can force the connection to be much less secure, and slower. This is digital warfare on a local population.

Another similar tool is a Wi-Fi spoofing tool. Where stingrays work through cellphone tower connections, Wi-Fi spoofing tools work through your smartphone’s Wi-Fi connection. Your best way to combat this is by using a VPN. It will encrypt all of the traffic that you send over the Wi-Fi connection. This will render any information that the police take from the spoofed Wi-Fi spot useless.

Protest tips for your smartphone

What can you actually do to protect your smartphone when you’re at a protest? We already looked at VPNs for use on Wi-Fi, here are some other tips to use:

  • The simplest is just turn your smartphone off. Or don’t bring it. Yes, I know that it’s a bummer to not have your smartphone on you. But when it comes to protecting yourself in a serious protests this may not be the time to tweet about it.
  • Use a burner phone. This is a phone that you do not use for anything else except coordinating at a protest. Make sure it is a pay-as-you-go phone, and always pay for your airtime in cash. That extra step could keep you anonymous.
  • Don’t think that the police are not above taking your smartphone. If your phone winds up being lost, or taken, with the police recovering it be sure to have a passcode lock on it. While they can try to crack that encryption, they will not put much time into it unless you are a really serious mover.
  • For lost or stolen phones, be sure to have Find My iPhone, or Android Device Manager installed. These two tools will allow for remote wiping of your smartphone. You can read about them, and more security tools for your smartphone at the link.
  • If you must communicate while you are at the protest, you’re going to have to use encrypted messaging apps. The best one for Android and iPhone right now is called Signal. This is an end to end the encryption tool for all your communications. You can use it for text, as well as VoIP. The messaging app known as WhatsApp uses similar technology.
  • The iPhone automatically sends messages with end to end encryption when they are sent between iPhone users. You will know that it is encrypted when you see a blue bubble around text you send.

Out of all the protest tips above, the smartest thing that you can do is leave your main smartphone at home. Use a burner phone if you absolutely have to have one.

Other protests tips for digital security

Making sure that your smart phone is secure is a good idea. Those things can track you wherever you go. A few other digital security tips that you should look into include:

Protest tips are not just for the paranoid anymore. Tools like stingrays make it very easy for police departments to spy on anyone. Protect yourself before you leave the house to go to the protest, and breathe a little easier when it’s done.


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