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.
The best solution: Use an encrypted voice app on a disposable phone in location far from home that has Wi-Fi.
Use an encrypted voice app on your cell phone or computer.
Consider FaceTime or Google Hangout.
Disposable, no-contract phones can protect your personal identity but not the data.
Public pay phones aren't great if you're a target.
(And, no, obviously don't do this.)
Forget about regular cell phones.
Landlines are a joke.
Contact Justine Sharrock at email@example.com.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.