Edward Snowden shot to global popularity after leaking top secret documents which revealed the extent of the National Security Agency’s electronic spying programs.
He has been pretty vocal about how electronic devices can be used to spy on unsuspecting users and often offers tips on how people can protect themselves. He has now designed a new iPhone case which will alert users if their phone is spying on them.
Like any good spy, a lot of the malware that steals data from phones—government-sponsored or otherwise—does so in a way that doesn’t attract attention to itself in order to keep stealing that data. That’s the problem Snowden’s aiming to fix, at least in part,with the new phone case he’s working on with Andrew Huang.
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.
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.
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.
“Over the coming year, we hope to prototype and verify the introspection engine’s abilities,” they write. “As the project is run largely through volunteer efforts on a shoestring budget, it will proceed at a pace reflecting the practical limitations of donated time.”
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) July 21, 2016