New App Blocks Government Spying on Your Calls and Texts
The federal government is collecting data on every phone call we make, is photographing each piece of mail and is tracking the GPS of cell phones — all without getting a search warrant as required in the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution.
There is little or nothing to stop the federal government from tapping into activists, dissenters, journalists or anyone else who might be engaging in legal, constitutionally protected activities that officials don’t approve of. The massive government spying program has prompted lawsuits from the ACLU and other defenders of privacy rights.
What’s worse, it’s not just the government that we need to worry about. With as little as $600 a malicous hacker can set up mock cell phone base stations and intercept any call being made in a given area.
Secure communications and confidentiality are absolutely essential in conversations between an individuals and their lawyers, to ensure that attorney-client privilege isn’t violated and that third parties don’t gain access to private information. Police bugging of lawyer-client conversations is already a scandal in the U.K.
Lawyers Must Ensure Conversations are Private
“More than 50 percent of what we do involves privileged information, proprietary information for our clients and highly damaging information if our adversaries were to learn about it,” says Lanny J. Davis, a D.C.-area attorney who specializes in legal crisis management.
Davis, who is former special counsel to President Bill Clinton and served on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board under President George W. Bush, is experienced in dealing with more high-profile information than your average attorney. However, he points out, all lawyers have reason to make sure their communications are secure, whether they’re handling a state secret or a client’s divorce case.
“The more mundane the case, and the smaller the law firm, the more likely it is to be exposed to highly sensitive, highly personal client information,” Davis says. “Every company has proprietary information they want to protect. Every litigation, by definition, has adversaries who are always looking to get an advantage to find out what is going on.”
As spying technology advances and becomes more intrusive, tools to foil government spies and hackers are also hitting the market. TrustChip is hardware-anchored encryption on a chip that fits into the MicroSD slot of a cell phone, where one would put a memory chip. Any individual can purchase it through KoolSpan or AT&T. It costs $125 to activate the chip and a $45 monthly fee for using it.
Davis has been using one recent entry in the field, the Seecrypt app for mobile smartphones, which costs $3 a month. It promises to keep the government and anyone else from listening in or even collecting metadata about who called whom, and for how long.
A Billion Guesses
The service connects Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) calls from wherever users have Internet connectivity, and encrypts the call or text message so that it cannot be eavesdropped on. The Seecrypt servers are located in South Africa, making them less susceptible to a court order from the United States to turn over information. A tap by the National Security Administration will reveal only that a person called the South African server and the message would be encrypted.
“Anybody from the outside can’t see your metadata and most importantly, they can’t listen to your call,” says Harvey Boulter, chairman of the Seecrypt group. “The encryption is extremely strong. If you make a billion guesses per second, you would be there 30 or 40 years breaking a single message.”
The recent revelations of NSA spying only highlight how vulnerable so many of our communications are. “It raises all manner of concerns across different professions,” says Boulter, who is also CEO of Porton Capital, a client of Davis’ firm. “There are a lot of lawyers around the world who are starting to approach us saying we need assurance in the communications we are having with our clients.”
Use of Seecrypt and similar technologies like TrustChip will be especially important when a person files suit against the government, for criminal defense lawyers who are concerned that investigators will spy on their personal communications, and for family law attorneys who could be subjected to electronic snooping by their opponents.
“Privacy isn’t taken very seriously at a governmental level,” Boulter says. “The privacy and surveillance balance needs to be re-examined.”