CELULAR PRIVACY IN THE MODERN ERA

2019-11-05 23:18:04

Dear readers,

I have a question for you: Is there a phone in your room? The vast majority of us would answer “yes”, and frankly, it’s hard not to have a phone. It’s fast, convenient, and often required for many aspects of our lives. However, this also means that our phones are constantly communicating data to government and corporate entities, against our will. This likely leaves you with questions like “How did it get this way?” and “Why?”

The aim of this particular article is to answer these questions and offer advice on how you can fight back against corporate and government surveillance efforts.

The Surveillance State and Our Phones

When most people picture a surveillance state, they picture a government creating spy networks , law enforcement spy vans watching buildings, or agents bugging specific phone lines. While all of these activities are still conducted, they vastly differ from modern surveillance in two key detail; the perpetrator and their scale. The previous surveillance methods involve government agents gathering information on specific people. Whereas in modern surveillance, corporate entities indiscriminately collect information on anyone with a phone and generally, allow government agents to access this information. Fun fact: the government often doesn’t even need a warrant to access information gathered by a corporate entity.

“Corporations (and other non government organizations or NGOs, by the way)? How did this happen”, you might ask. Edward Snowden, former NSA glow-in-the-dark who confirmed a lot of details regarding the surveillance state, explains the legal precedent and technical details about modern surveillance in his interview with retarded man child, Joe Rogan, linked here (hyperlink in .txt?).

Legal Precedent and Incentives

As discussed in the video, the legal precedent that created our surveillance state comes from the case of Smith vs Maryland. The short version is that in the 70s, a creepy incel named Smith. repeatedly called and stalked a girl, had the police investigate, and the police eventually needed his phone number to confirm his guilt. The police went to his phone provider and asked for his information (name, number, address, call records, etc), which they handed over, instead of asking for the police to get a warrant. When the case finally went to court, the incel’s defense argued that the information gathered belonged to the incel, not the phone company, and was gathered illegally by the police because there wasn’t a warrant. Obviously this argument didn’t hold in court. The case remained valid and the incel got punished.

So after this case, the legal precedent has been that you don’t own information you give out when you use the services of companies, to include Telcom, as an industry. To make it worse, governments, businesses, and organizations realized the value and risks held in the data they collect. The terms of service on your phone contract will absolutely state that the data collected about you is information owned by your provider. For legal reasons, they want it outlined on paper that you agree with how they use your data and won’t sue.

However, government and business entities do this for more than just legal security; data collection is a large and incredibly profitable industry. Almost every large entity with information on their users sells the data they collect. Even government agencies like your state’s BMV or DMV sell data (hyperlink here). Businesses also analyze data to try and make decisions that will result in more sales and profits. Amazon collects so much data about their customers that they transport it to facilities with trucks (hyperlink) as opposed to using internet connections. Lastly, the government’s obvious incentive in supporting data collection efforts is the ability to use data to govern and punish.

Technical Details

If you use android and want to understand the details behind how modern surveillance works, go ahead and open up your phone settings, system, about, status and hit IMEI information. You are that number. The IMEI is the number assigned to your device by the phone’s manufacturer. Any time you have signal or wifi texting/calling services, your phone is constantly telling the nearest cell phone tower “Hey, I am X, and I am here”. Back in the status page, you’ll also notice that your sim card has an IMEI, which also gets constantly communicated. The cell phone tower records all of these constant messages from your phone. That cell phone tower is on a network, where all the other towers communicate the messages that they are receiving. All of this communication between towers is the reason calls, texts, and notifications go to the right people. Telcom companies record all these communications and allow the government to access them. However, this is the MINIMUM information that your phone is communicating every couple of seconds.

Go to your home screen and pull up all of your phone’s apps. With few exceptions, those apps all communicate even more data to their developers and administrators. Don’t like that? That’s a shame; a lot of those apps are stock. Google owns Android, so you can’t get rid of things like Google Maps, Google Play Store, or Google app. In some cases, Facebook is a stock app and you can’t get rid of that either. So what all are they collecting? Just about anything seeing as common apps all ask for permission to access to your files, your pictures and videos, your microphone and camera, your location, your contacts, your text messages… Everything… and you legally don’t own a goddamn thing because you agreed to the terms of service and permission requests.

How Can We Fight Back?

Alternative Operating Systems

So, we’re working with the assumption that you need a phone. As we’ve discussed, Android and iOS are a no-go. So we have to use alternative operating systems. There are many in development, but LineageOS is probably the furthest along and most functional.

LineageOS is an open source, highly customizable, privacy centered operating system. It should be noted that technically, it is based off Android, BUT, not a lot of it. When I poked around in settings, the phone displayed that 4% of Android code was present on the phone. So I may still be sending data to Google, but 99% less data, when compared to most Android users. Also, LineageOS’s Privacy Guard can limit what data you send when using more mainstream apps. More on apps, later.

Next thing to discuss is your phone carrier. I’d recommend avoiding mainstream phone carriers, if you can live without unlimited data. The alternative carriers basically rent the infrastructure from the big companies, but they charge way less. Or, for maximum information security, you can go with a prepaid carrier option. These prepaid options have no contracts, so your name and personal info isn’t tied to your device unless you input it into an app. Also, prepaid plans are still cheaper than normal plans with mainstream carriers. The catch to prepaid options is that they’re more annoying, in that you have to refill your plan with cards from the store.

Now, let’s talk about apps and ultimately about how you use your phone in your life. Every non-stock app you download is a potential information security breach. To minimize or prevent these, you might really have to change how you use your phone in your life. For example, you shouldn’t use Google Maps or Waze on LineageOS, because even with proper use of Privacy Guard, you’re still sending data, which tech companies make money off [of], to a giant ideological opponent, Google. Alternatively, you can use an open source equivalent like OsmAnd~, which I found on F-Droid, a free, open source equivalent to the Google or Apple app stores. Or, you could just get a real GPS to keep in your car.

So this very much becomes a matter of changing how you live your life. What apps on your current phone do you really need? On my normie phone, I had all sorts of bullshit that didn’t need to be there; I really just needed a navigation and private browsing. Are you just trying to minimize the data you send or do you want to be completely anonymous, at all times? Is having your bank app a need or a convenience? Do you really need the McDonald’s app? These ares decisions that are ultimately up to you and how much you want to fight back against the surveillance state.