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New Snowden-Developed Smartphone Device Aims to Shield Journalists

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden says "airplane mode" isn't enough to ensure one's location stays secret

The technology is "a case-like device that wires into your iPhone's guts to monitor the electrical signals sent to its internal antennas," according to Wired. (Photo: Philip Brookes/flickr/cc)

Whistleblower Edward Snowden has helped to develop a smartphone case designed to protect privacy by constantly checking whether one's phone is transmitting data via radio signal.

The technology, which the NSA whistleblower developed alongside prominent hardware hacker Andrew 'bunnie' Huang, is "a case-like device that wires into your iPhone's guts to monitor the electrical signals sent to its internal antennas," according to Wired.

Wired continues:

The aim of that add-on, Huang and Snowden say, is to offer a constant check on whether your phone's radios are transmitting. They say it's an infinitely more trustworthy method of knowing your phone's radios are off than "airplane mode," which people have shown can be hacked and spoofed. Snowden and Huang are hoping to offer strong privacy guarantees to smartphone owners who need to shield their phones from government-funded adversaries with advanced hacking and surveillance capabilities—particularly reporters trying to carry their devices into hostile foreign countries without constantly revealing their locations.

Indeed, Snowden told Intercept reporter Micah Lee in a video interview, "We have to ensure that journalists can investigate and find the truth, even in areas where governments prefer they don't. It's basically to make the phone work for you, how you want it, when you want it, but only when."


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The Verge further explains:

The device, which Snowden and Huang are referring to as an "introspection engine," consists of an attachment to a modified iPhone that physically wires into the antennas inside the phone for GPS, Bluetooth, cellular connectivity, and Wi-Fi through the SIM card slot (moving the SIM card itself into the external pack). It then can directly monitor radio transmissions, alert users to any unauthorized output when the radios are meant to be off, and even offer a kill-switch to immediately shut off the device.

According to The Intercept, Snowden and Huang presented their findings in a talk at MIT Media Lab's Forbidden Research event on Thursday and published a detailed paper.

If the technology proves successful, Lee reported, "they may seek funding through the Freedom of the Press Foundation to develop and maintain a supply chain."

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