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Protest Tips: Smartphone and Digital Security

If there’s one thing that the current US administration has done, it’s increasing the need for protest tips. People are taking to the streets by the thousands, and by the millions across the country and globe. However, protesting in the 21st-century 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 will help us. We use them to organize our protests on Facebook, Twitter, and other online platforms. However, as with most digital tools, the convenience goes both ways. Your smartphone is also a convenient way for the police to track you and find out what you’re doing. If you think it isn’t happening yet, then 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 people protesting the simplest of things can be tracked through controversial devices called stingrays. These are used at both the local and federal law enforcement levels.

What these tools do is they trick your smartphone into connecting with them instead of to your local cell tower. These tools then intercept all your identifying information and track your movements. They are not as exotic as they sound; here is a photo of one:

The scariest thing is that the laws on whether or not the police need a warrant to use these tools are unclear. Laws vary from state to state. Can you believe the times that we live in? It’s possible that the police won’t be needing any warrant to commit mass surveillance on 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 reason is for them to find out trends of who attends certain events and protests then track them later on. Tracking people who show up at a perfectly peaceful protest… that 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 up a complete block, they can force the connection to become much slower and less secure. 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 traffic that you send over the Wi-Fi connection. This will render any information taken from a 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 off your smartphone. Or don’t bring it. Yes, I know that it’s a bummer to not having your smartphone with you. But when it comes to protecting yourself during a serious protest rally, it may serve you well if you don’t tweet about the event.
  • Use a burner phone. This is a phone that you do not use for anything else except for coordinating 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 gets lost or confiscated and the police recovered it, be sure to have a passcode lock on it. While the police 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 install Find My iPhone or Android Device Manager. These two tools will allow for remote wiping of your smartphone. You can read about them and more security tools for your smartphone at this 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. It is an end-to-end 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 messages are sent between iPhone users. You will know that the text is encrypted when you see a blue bubble around the text you send.

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

Other protests tips for digital security

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

  • Setting up an anonymous email account.
  • Hiding your IP address while you are online.
  • Using anti-malware tools to get rid of spying programs.

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 if you’re going to a protest, and breathe a little easier when everything is done.

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