Edward Snowden, the world’s most wanted geek, has helped develop plans for a smartphone case that could stop people becoming victims of digital surveillance.
In an online paper called “Against The Law: Countering Lawful Abuses of Digital Surveillance”, Snowden and Andrew “Bunnie” Huang outline plans to create a smartphone case that is able to display a notification and spark an alarm when the phone’s cellular, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or other radio connections are sending and receiving data. It will also feature a “kill switch” that can forcibly disconnect power to the phone if a signal is seen to be transmitting information without the user’s permission or knowledge. The case also obscures the rear camera lens to prevent the recording of videos.
The design is said to be able to work for any type of smartphone, although their paper was based around an iPhone 6. They have also made the plans for the device an “open source” so anyone can create it.
Snowden and Bunnie concluded the paper by saying if their prototypes are a success they will look to the Freedom of the Press Foundation to potentially fund production of them.
The inside of the modified iPhone that Edward Snowden and Andrew Huang toyed around. Image credit: Edward Snowden and Andrew Huang
It is primarily intended to protect journalists, particularly those reporting from war zones or corresponding under regimes with strict censorship. For the many people working and living in these high-risk situations, this could be life-saving. In 2012, Sunday Times war correspondent Marie Colvin and French photojournalist Remi Ochli were killed after Syrian government forces were allegedly able to trace their position from their phones.
Speaking to WIRED, Snowden said that he has not carried a smartphone for three years, saying "wireless devices are kind of like kryptonite to me.” In 2013, he exposed the extent of the NSA’s global surveillance programs. The former-NSA employee is still in temporary asylum in Moscow following the United States filing a criminal complaint against him under the Espionage Act. Although still under threat from the US government, Snowden now leads the Freedom of the Press Foundation, a non-profit organization that hopes to raise public awareness about surveillance operations of governments and corporations, as well as offering support for journalists exposing governments.