When protesters and law enforcement officers are in the same place, protesters should be concerned about their digital privacy.
With the help of a cell-site simulator, police can locate any person through their phone. They can also tell which individuals were present at a specific location with high levels of accuracy.
However, this should not discourage you from standing up for your beliefs, as is your right under the First Amendment. Nor should the threat of a cell-site simulator stop you from bringing your phone to a protest.
After all, your phone is one of your most vital tools during an emergency.
Your phone and the data it contains can put you or other protestors at risk in two ways.
The most obvious is the information the police can access if you get arrested or detained. Law enforcement officials may also try to confiscate your phone, or if you lose your phone, it may find its way into their possession.
In the past, police officers have shown that they are prepared to arrest and sometimes attack completely peaceful protesters and even journalists covering the demonstrations. So, if the police get a hold of your phone, they will know where and who you’ve been around.
If you’ve been in contact with someone who is undocumented, has a criminal record, or has chronic medical conditions that could make an arrest potentially fatal, it’s your duty to protect your phone.
The police may also try to find out if you have come in contact with the people leading the protest, and if you have, the police will have gained knowledge of who these people are.
There are steps that you can take to prevent this from happening:
Another way that local police can get the data from your phone is by using IMSI catchers.
International mobile subscriber identity (IMSI) catchers go by several different names:
These are devices that act like regular cellular towers, and local law enforcement use them to track down phones. Advanced IMSI catchers can intercept and even record the contents and metadata of phone conversations and text messages using 2G networks.
They can also interrupt the cellular service in a particular area.
Since IMSI numbers are unique to every device and are shared with your cell provider whenever your phone connects to a cell tower, a cell-site simulator can track your location with varying levels of accuracy.
Moreover, you cannot change your IMSI number without changing your SIM, as the number is assigned by your mobile carrier and stored on your SIM card.
If you’re worried that the government is using an IMSI Catcher in your area, look for the following signs:
Note that these can happen even if there are no IMSI Catchers around—for example, when the cellular network malfunctions.
There are certain precautions you can take to protect your digital privacy. It is abundantly clear that law enforcement officials will not hesitate to use any digital evidence against you if it proves you were at a protest.
The following suggestions will help you thwart IMSI catchers to help protect yourself and the people around you:
The most critical decision you must make before leaving for a protest is whether or not you want to bring your phone with you.
You should be aware that smartphones, while useful in several ways, can be used to track you. Your smartphone and many of the apps you have installed contain a stockpile of data about your communications and your whereabouts. Plus, it sends out some of this identifying data all the time to cell towers, which means police can coerce your carrier to give up that information.
They won’t have to go that far if they use IMSI catchers, though.
“The device in your pocket is definitely going to give off information that could be used to identify you,” informs Harlo Holmes, the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) and Director of Digital Security at Freedom of the Press Foundation.
If you can spare the money, you can purchase a burner phone. In this case, you should memorize the phone numbers of a few important people and refrain from saving that information onto the phone.
Don’t forget to share the number for the disposable phone with your emergency contacts as well.
Knowing all this, should you leave your phone behind before attending a protest?
Here are the pros and cons:
All your digital information is secure.
It may be hard to remember someone’s phone number during an emergency.
You cannot be tracked.
You won’t be able to record anything if the need arises.
Having your phone can be useful during a crisis.
Another way to stop your phone from broadcasting data is by switching to airplane mode. This prevents your phone from connecting to nearby cell towers and IMSI catchers.
Similarly, you can turn off your phone’s Wi-Fi and Bluetooth as well to help limit phone tracking.
If you decide to go this route, you should schedule hourly check-ins with someone you trust. Let your friends and family members know you’re going to be unreachable for a while, and only turn off airplane mode when you need to contact someone.
The problem with this method is that while it stops your phone from transmitting information, it does not stop it from receiving phone signals.
Your location history is still recorded by your phone and sent out later when you reconnect.
Along with turning airplane mode on, what if you also disable location services?
Unfortunately, several apps on your phone may have a history of ignoring your location service settings and continue to record your location date regardless.
So, is disabling location services and turning on airplane mode enough?
Phone cannot connect to cell towers and IMSI catchers.
Your location history still gets stored.
You can record important events.
Certain apps may disregard your location service settings.
So far we have discussed leaving your phone behind, using airplane mode, and turning off Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. None of these come without their own set of problems.
What if you were to turn off your phone completely?
While this may seem like a safe option at a protest, in the event of an emergency, it could take a painfully long time for your phone to power up.
If you immediately need to take a photograph or record something happening around you, a powered-off phone will only prove to be a hindrance.
What if there’s an emergency and you need to call someone urgently? Turning your phone on and off ten times a day is not at all pragmatic.
Furthermore, your smartphone can still be tracked, even if it’s not turned on.
So, should you turn off your phone at a protest? Let’s look at the pros and cons:
Your phone cannot broadcast and receive data.
Repeatedly turning your phone on and off can be a hassle.
You will be able to use your phone during an emergency.
You will not be able to record something at a moment’s notice.
Smartphones can still be tracked if they’re powered off.
A great way to stop your phone from transmitting and receiving all signals is by using a Faraday Bag. Just drop your phone in the bag, and it protects your digital information.
What’s great about this option is that you can opt for selective privacy.
This stops you from taking extreme steps to protect your privacy at protests, such as leaving your phone behind. Not to mention, protecting your phone with a Faraday Bag is much easier than constantly switching your phone off or disabling your location services, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth.
When your phone is in the bag, it blocks all incoming and outgoing signals. You will not receive notifications, text messages, or calls. Even contact-tracing apps won’t be able to detect your phone.
This is made possible by an inner layer made of blocking materials. The material contains a mixture of copper and nickel woven at specific ratios that don’t allow your phone screen to activate. Protecting this metallic fabric is an extremely durable outer layer that is both water and puncture-resistant.
With the help of GoDark Faraday Bags, you will be able to choose when your phone is detectable. You can focus on the protest without worrying about your data being stolen.
If you need to use your phone, simply pull it out, and you’re good to go.
You don’t have to take our word for how effective GoDark Faraday Bags are.
“Super happy the GoDark bag blocked GPS, WiFi, and Cell signals as advertised, even when my bag is upside down and the tablet is pressed against the closure.”
“Didn’t expect the material to be so solid, you can expect this bag to last forever. Excellent design with a rather cool look, love it.”
Even if local law enforcement officials resort to using IMSI catchers, you should not feel deterred from voicing your dissent. If you take the necessary precautions, the effects of these tools can be mitigated.
Stand up for what’s right, protect your rights, and let GoDark Faraday Bags protect your privacy.