The revelation that the National Security Agency (NSA) is collecting data on citizens’ calls and electronic messages has caused global alarm and calls for better protection against snooping.
Voice communications are most vulnerable as they are easiest to monitor, but there are emerging phone applications that offer solutions. Silent Circle, developed by leading cryptographers and counterterrorism specialists, uses "ephemeral keys" to encrypt calls and allows you to burn messages a set time after sending.
“There’s no record of the call, no logging; you could have the conversation in the NSA cupboard and they wouldn’t read it,” Silent Circle's CEO and former Navy SEAL Mike Janke told Metro. “For the same reason we couldn’t give your data to the government – we don’t have it.”
Silent Circle services 117 countries and Fortune 500 companies, and there is further evidence that secure calling is taking off.
“Mobile broadband has enabled voice encryption, which was impossible on traditional phones,” said Marek Tuszynski of My Shadow, a group that promotes privacy for human rights purposes and lists tools on its website with reviews.
When choosing an encryption tool, Tuszynski recommends using one with open-source code and peer reviews for transparency. Users should also be aware that “any type of encryption raises a flag and makes you suspicious.”
The NSA leak also revealed collusion with tech giants such as Facebook, and My Shadow cautions against social media use. “Free information exchange is dominated by these attractive networks that live from selling your data,” says Tuszynski, suggesting that they are incompatible with privacy.
Ultimately, law enforcement agencies have stronger tools to invade communications than exist to protect them, so high priority suspects cannot hide. “Defense methods exist to understand monitoring systems, mitigate their effect and buy time,” said Smari McCarthy of the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative. “But if you are wanted, you’re not untraceable.”
Silent Circle: App produced by world-leading cryptographers that has four modes and allows you to delete sent data and messages.
HIGHSEC: ‘Tap-proof’ smartphone developed by German firm Giesecke & Devrient has a mode that scans for third-party monitoring.
Jitsi: An encrypted alternative to Skype that can be downloaded to smartphones.
The Guardian Project: Community platform providing security apps for smartphones and open source programs.
Tor: Web browser that hides your online activity; available for Android.