In your face, NSA: meet the secure Blackphone


“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated …” That’s what the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America says. Put another way: Privacy is a Civil Right.

Other countries have similar laws, some with greater power to protect the people, some with less. That’s all been thrown in the rubbish bin — and your privacy with it — thanks to the broad and arguably over-reaching eye of the National Security Agency: the NSA.

Google is creepy

GoogleYesterday I wrote about how much Google makes off each Internet user in the world, and why Android is so important to Google’s profitability. In that article I showed how Google taps into your Internet activity to build a profile on you. It does this to cater search results to you (not just to the terms you you’re looking for), and sell you to advertisers who ultimately keep the proverbial lights on and the bits flowing.

While that sounds creepy, it probably doesn’t raise to the level of “evil” because you’re agreeing to let Google know about you as a trade for the services it provides.

The NSA is evil

NSAThe NSA, however, supasses “creepy” and is very much entrenched in the realm of “evil”.

The organization reportedly taps all the Internet traffic it can get its hands on, reads your email, cracks encryption to look inside your private “papers and effects”, monitors your location via your cell signal, intercepts laptops before they get to you to install spyware on them, and is said to be able to hack into your computer’s WiFi signal from over 8 miles away.

Ironically, the NSA does this without any Warrant, without any “probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation”, and without “particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized”. Many (myself included) feel that this is a clear and obvious violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Even if you could “opt out” of the NSA’s spying on you (which you cannot), the agency wouldn’t stop monitoring you. After all, you’re a potential terrorist, and that gives the agency the ability to sway congress, get secret laws passed, secret courts created, and allows all its activity to be protected under the guise of “national security”.

Whether you agree with privacy rights activists or with the NSA is moot. The bottom line is that your privacy isn’t private any more.

Blackphone to the rescue?

We’ve talked about the Ubuntu phone in the past, and I’ve mused that a niche that could be leveraged is that of privacy — encrypt everything as the default: the device, storage, email, Internet traffic, text messages, video calls, voice calls, everything! If encryption is not available for some reason, such as if the recipient’s device does not support it, the caller is warned before placing the call that the communiqué is insecure. Eventually, as people realize their Civil Right of privacy is being subverted, more will gravitate to the “private platform”. So far, Ubuntu Mobile hasn’t done that.

Geeksphone and Silent Circle, a hardware manufacturer and a provider of anonymous VPN services, plan to do just that: provide a totally secure communications device that would fly in the face of the NSA or any other government agency violating your privacy.

The new handset will reportedly launch at Mobile World Congress next month and is based on Android — but not any old Android. “PrivatOS” promises to secure your voice calls and text messages, store your files securely, and allow you to surf the web through an anonymous VPN.

How exactly all of that is going to be accomplished (and why email was left off the list) remains to be seen, however, the individuals involved in the project give me hope.Blackphone team

  • Phil Zimmermann, creator of PGP
  • Jon Callas, co-founder of PGP Inc. and CTO of Silent Circle
  • Mike Janke, CEO of Silent Circle and former US Navy SEAL

“I have spent my whole career working towards the launch of secure telephony products,” said Zimmermann. “Blackphone provides users with everything they need to ensure privacy and control of their communications, along with all the other high-end smartphone features they have come to expect.”

I don’t know about you, but my privacy is important to me, and if government agencies aren’t willing to respect our privacy, I feel it’s our duty as citizens, to take back that which is already ours and make their arguably Unconstitutional spying significantly more difficult.

Hopefully, projects like this will “encourage” the NSA (and others) to focus their efforts on legitimate targets where searching is reasonable, there is probable cause, and a Warrant particularly describing the place or person to be searched has been issued by a judge of sufficient jurisdiction.

Head to the comments to let us know if you value your privacy, or are okay with involuntarily sharing your personal information because you’ve “done nothing wrong”? What would a totally secure smartphone be like? Want to learn more about Blackphone? MWC should prove to be a very interesting show, and as you’d expect, Pocketnow has you covered!

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About The Author
Joe Levi
Joe graduated from Weber State University with two degrees in Information Systems and Technologies. He has carried mobile devices with him for more than a decade, including Apple's Newton, Microsoft's Handheld and Palm Sized PCs, and is Pocketnow's "Android Guy". By day you'll find Joe coding web pages, tweaking for SEO, and leveraging social media to spread the word. By night you'll probably find him writing technology and "prepping" articles, as well as shooting video. Read more about Joe Levi here.