Edward Snowden is developing a phone case which could stop governments from tracking journalists, activists and human rights workers via their mobiles.
The “introspection engine” would be installed on to the back of an iPhone 6 and indicate to users if the handset is broadcasting identifiable signals even when it is supposed to be inaccessible.
Journalists regularly use smartphones to capture images, record video and take notes in dangerous locations. But it is becoming increasingly difficult to do so off the grid.
Snowden revealed back in 2014 that spies can trick targets into thinking their phone is off when it’s actually turned on.
According to a new lawsuit, the Sunday Times war correspondent Marie Colvin was reportedly killed after her phone was hacked by government forces in Syria.
But Snowden’s device would ensure that journalists are shielded from state surveillance if they are carrying out sensitive work. Tiny wires from the “introspection engine” would monitor electrical signals to the phones’ two antennae used by its radios, including GPS, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and cellular modem.
If the phone starts broadcasting when it is supposed to be inactive, a message or alarm would alert users. It could also automatically switch the phone off by disconnecting its power supply.
The device, which has been designed by Snowden and reverse engineering expert Andrew “Bunnie” Huang, resembles a normal bolt-on battery case with a black and white screen. The pair hope to develop a prototype in the next year. But the project is being run by volunteers, so a mainstream roll out won’t be coming any time soon. It’s even possible that the design will never be realised.
Nevertheless, the project will help to raise awareness of the perils of a constantly connected world that requires citizens to increasingly cede their privacy to governments and corporations.
The Guardian reports that Snowden, speaking via video link, told a conference at the MIT Media Lab: “If you have a phone in your pocket that’s turned on, a long-lived record of your movements has been created.
“As a result of the way the cell network functions your device is constantly shouting into the air by means of radio signals a unique identity that validates you to the phone company. And this unique identity is not only saved by that phone company, but it can also be observed as it travels over the air by independent, even more dangerous third parties.”
Best smartphones to buy in 2016:
The iPhone 6s
on the surface at least looks like your bog standard update. Visually it's very much the same animal but look a little deeper and this is an entirely different phone. There's now a pressure-sensitive display utilising a feature called 'Force Touch' while a blistering new processor means it's one of the most capable gaming devices outside of your living room.
The new HTC 10
might not have the waterproof credentials of the Galaxy S7 but what it lacks in weather resistance it more than makes up for in media specs. This is a Hi-Res audio playing pro thanks to dual-amplifiers built-in and Hi-Res audio headphones provided as standard. It also has one of the best screens we've ever seen on a smartphone, so there's that.
Incredibly, Apple's familiar-looking iPhone SE
manages to boast the same performance as its top-of-the-range iPhone 6s making it the most powerful 4-inch smartphone available. If you're keen to return to the days of one-handed texting then Apple's bite-sized iPhone is the smartphone for you.
Bloomberg via Getty Images
With a new curved back and larger 5.5-inch display the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge
is more about evolution than revolution. The S7 edge now sports a water-resistant body, embedded camera and a MicroSD card slot. The S7 edge is also Samsung's most powerful smartphone yet, so powerful in fact that Samsung have actually had to equip a tiny water-cooling system inside the phone. The good news though is that means you'll never have to worry about getting a warm hand.
The LG G5
sets itself apart from rivals like the S7, Xperia XA and the iPhone 6s by being something utterly unique. The G5 is the first commercial 'modular' phone, allowing you to swap out the bottom for new accessories. So far there's an audio one made in partnership with Bang & Olufsen and a camera-focused attachment which gives you extra camera controls.
JACK TAYLOR via Getty Images
The Huawei P9 is a smartphone designed for capturing life. Thanks to a partnership with photography legends Leica this dual-lens camera can take pictures that'll put your dedicated camera to shame. Of course it helps that the P9 is also a pretty great Android smartphone as well.
The Nexus 5X
strikes the ultimate balance between power and affordability. Taking over the responsibility from the frankly excellent Nexus 5, Google's new smartphone boast an ultra-light body but still crams in a fingerprint sensor, the latest version of Android marshmallow and a Full-HD display.
Sony has created the world's first truly 4K smartphone
. While you might be wondering why, the fact is they've gone ahead and done it anyway. Utilising Sony's amazing screen expertise it should come as no surprise to learn the display is an absolute stunner. There's a fingerprint reader and the ability to play high-res audio.
The Google Nexus 6P
is Google's answer to the big-screen phone. Sporting a 5.7-inch Full-HD panel, the 6P has a beautifully thin unibody enclosure while the subtle fingerprint scanner on the back can be used for security and for paying. You'll also get the added advantage of owning a phone that'll always get Google's Android software before anyone else keeping it safer than ever.
The Moto X Force might not be the most stylish phone of the bunch but what it lacks in looks it more than makes up for in strength. With an 'unbreakable' screen the Force is a no compromises Android phone that has a 5.4-inch AMOLED display.
The OnePlus 2 describes itself as the 'Flagship Killer'. It's a bold statement for a company that has made just two smartphones. Despite this the OnePlus 2 lives up to its name, for just £249 you get a stunning Android smartphone that boasts a huge display, large storage and a fingerprint sensor. It's also pretty much customisable to within an inch of its life so if there's anything you don't like about Google's operating system, well you can change it.