Is it possible to make secure private phone calls? Can you sign up for a cell phone without signing away your rights?
Straight up, the answer is no.
In fact, using a phone is the absolute worst way to communicate if you want privacy. The government can listen into your phone calls and track who you are calling and when. Phone companies, including AT&T and Verizon, are handing over information on millions of Americans on an ongoing basis. We know this thanks to Edward Snowden and others who have leaked classified information. And the phone companies haven’t denied any of the revelations.
But it is possible to make it harder for the government to access your private phone calls.
“You can make it difficult enough that the only way the government can get your information is when they really care about you, versus now when they can get everyone’s calls and records at a drop of a hat,” says technology expert Christopher Soghoian of the American Civil Liberties Union. “The government should have to work to spy on you. You can make it harder for government. Not impossible, but harder.”
Your best bet is to use an encrypted voice app, either on your computer or cell phone. Basic SSL encryption won’t cut it, since most companies keep an unencrypted version of your data. ZRTP encryption, which encrypts data end to end, means that the service provider can’t even access it.
One of the best encryption apps, according to Soghoian, is Red Phone, currently available on Android. The iOS version comes out next month.
“We’ve never received any government requests, probably because it would not be possible for us to include a back door,” says a representative from WhisperSystems, which runs Red Phone. “The communication is encrypted end to end and the software is open source, so any back door would be publicly visible.”
For added protection, you can use a new disposable phone paid for in cash and go to a location far from home or work that has Wi-Fi.
New information about the NSA’s spy program will continue to be released. Based on what we know so far, here are your options, listed from most to least effective.
3. The best solution: Use an encrypted voice app on a disposable phone in location far from home that has Wi-Fi.
OK, maybe if you’re going totally deep throat, this is a good idea. Otherwise, it probably isn’t practical.
4. Use an encrypted voice app on your cell phone or computer.
Encrypted apps like Red Phone are used on your phone or computer. They don’t run over phone carriers. Both parties need to have the app, but they are simple to use.
5. Consider FaceTime or Google Hangout.
Apple FaceTime and Google Hangout are better than using an unencrypted cell phone since they run through your IP service. They aren’t designed to keep your information private, but most internet companies, including Apple and Google, say that they only give away information on a targeted basis in response to government requests. Yesterday, however, we found out that the NSA can tap into about 75% of internet traffic. Less of the data is being stored for future mining, but until we learn more, be cautious with FaceTime and Hangout.
6. Skip Skype.
For a while we thought Skype was safe, thanks to its encryption. But then we found out that Microsoft worked closely with the feds to create a system allowing it access to unencrypted versions.
7. Disposable, no-contract phones can protect your personal identity but not the data.
You can pay cash and don’t have to give your personal contact information when you sign up. But these phones work with major carriers, including AT&T and Verizon.
8. Public pay phones aren’t great if you’re a target.
The phone isn’t tied to you. You pay cash. But it is still run by the phone companies, which means calls are being recorded and stored for potential future use. Plus, if you are a specific target, the feds can wiretap these phones easily and set up camera surveillance.
9. (And, no, obviously don’t do this.)
10. Forget about regular cell phones.
Absolutely no. Have you not been paying any attention at all?
11. Landlines are a joke.
Come on. You can’t even use encrypted programs on landlines. Plus, who has a landline anyway?