Updated: Jun 8
Twenty years ago the American government began to turn its back on democracy in exchange for the economic benefits brought by the influx of technology companies that were booming in California. In the years that followed, a surveillance co-operative began to form. For those that were paying attention, the revelations by AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein should have been a very big wake-up call. The government was conducting one large-scale wiretapping operation on the global internet, and it was all totally illegal. A social vision was born out of the co-operation between government and private industry, both spellbound by a dream of total information awareness.
This type of illegal surveillance originated because these technology companies figured out that they can stake a claim to people’s lives as free raw material for the extraction of behavioural data, which they then declare their private property. When the government tracks the location of a cellphone it achieves near perfect surveillance, as if it had attached an ankle monitor to the phone’s user,” wrote John Roberts, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, in a 2018 ruling that prevented the government from obtaining location data from cellphone towers without a warrant. In cases where the telecommunications giants don't willingly hand over data, the government will attempt to obtain it with a warrant. “We decline to grant the state unrestricted access to a wireless carrier’s database of physical location information,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote in the decision, Carpenter v. United States.
With that judicial intent in mind, it is alarming to read a new report in The Wall Street Journal that found the former Trump administration “has bought access to a commercial database that maps the movements of millions of cellphones in America and is using it for immigration and border enforcement.”
The government has figured out how to side-step the entire warrant process; by purchasing your personal and highly sensitve data from private data brokers. The data used by the government comes not just from the phone companies but from a location data company, one of many that are quietly and relentlessly collecting the precise movements of all smartphone-owning Americans through their phone apps. Many apps — weather apps, “secure messaging” apps like WhatsApp, Signal, and coupon apps, for instance — gather and record location data without users’ understanding what the code is up to. That data can then be sold to third party buyers including, apparently, the government.
Since that data is available for sale, it seems the government believes that no court oversight is necessary. “The federal government has essentially found a workaround by purchasing location data used by marketing firms rather than going to court on a case-by-case basis,” The Journal reported. “Because location data is available through numerous commercial ad exchanges, government lawyers have approved the programs and concluded that the Carpenter ruling doesn’t apply.” A spokesman from Customs and Border Protection defended the practice in a statement to The Times: “While C.B.P. is being provided access to location information, it is important to note that such information does not include cellular phone tower data, is not ingested in bulk and does not include the individual user’s identity.” Use of this type of location-tracking data by the government has not been tested in court. And in the private sector, location data — and the multibillion dollar advertising ecosystem that has eagerly embraced it — are both opaque and largely unregulated. Last year, a New York Times Opinion investigation found that claims about the anonymity of location data are untrue since comprehensive records of time and place easily identify real people.
Consider a commute: Even without a name, how many phones travel between a specific home and specific office every day? These privacy findings dredge up many questions about C.B.P.’s workflow: What precisely does the agency mean when it claims that the data is not ingested in bulk? Who in the agency gets to look at the data and for what purposes? Where is it stored? How long is it stored for? If the government plans to outsource the surveillance state to commercial entities to bypass Supreme Court rulings, both parties ought to be questioned under oath about the specifics of their practices. The use of location data to aid in deportations also demonstrates how out of date the notion of informed consent has become. When users accept the terms and conditions for various digital products, not only are they uninformed about how their data is gathered, they are also consenting to future uses that they could never predict.
Without oversight, it is inconceivable that tactics turned against undocumented immigrants won’t eventually be turned to the enforcement of other laws. As the world has seen in the streets of Hong Kong, where protesters wear masks to avoid a network of government facial-recognition cameras, once a surveillance technology is widely deployed in a society it is almost impossible to uproot.
Mobile Privacy and Application Permissions
Everywhere you go, you are being followed. Its the cell phone in your pocket that is betraying you. All of your data is being scooped up by the free apps that you grant full permissions to. The makers of these free apps are then in turn selling this data to advertisers, but also to anyone else who pays.
The more advertisers know about you — where you go, which shops you visit and what purchases you make — the more they can profile you, understand your tastes, your hobbies and interests, and use that information to target you with ads. You can thank the phone in your pocket — the apps on it, to be more accurate — that invisibly spits out gobs of data about you as you go about your day.
Your location, chief among the data, is by far the most revealing.
SecureCrypt never asks for any permissions whatsoever, besides basic functionality permissions. SecureCrypt most certainly will never ask for any Location-based permissions at all. We built SecureCrypt with user privacy as our upmost principle and this is reflected in our Zero-Trust approach. Nothing on the device is left to trust. The SecureCrypt app sits inside of an encrypted container, isolated from the rest of the phone. The SecureCrypt app is completely self contained, including our Contact List. Our Contact List itself is encrypted, and native to the SecureCrypt app. We do not attempt to access any part of the phone outside of our own app. This is a feature unique to SecureCrypt as we are the only mobile security solution that does not require extensie permissions from the device in which our mobile application sits in.
Chief Justice Roberts outlined some key points in his Carpenter ruling. “The retrospective quality of the data here gives police access to a category of information otherwise unknowable. In the past, attempts to reconstruct a person’s movements were limited by a dearth of records and the frailties of recollection. With access to [cellphone location data], the Government can now travel back in time to retrace a person’s whereabouts, subject only to the retention polices of the wireless carriers, which currently maintain records for up to five years. Critically, because location information is continually logged for all of the 400 million devices in the United States — not just those belonging to persons who might happen to come under investigation — this newfound tracking capacity runs against everyone.” The courts are far from an ideal venue for protecting Fourth Amendment rights in an age of rapid technological advancement. For far, far too long, lawmakers have neglected their critical role in overseeing how these technologies are used. After all, concern about location tracking is bipartisan, as Republican and Democratic lawmakers told Times Opinion last year.
“I am deeply concerned by reports that the Trump administration has been secretly collecting cellphone data — without warrants — to track the location of millions of people across the United States to target individuals for deportation,” Representative Carolyn Maloney, who leads the Oversight and Reform Committee, told The New York Times.
“Such Orwellian government surveillance threatens the privacy of every American. The federal government should not have the unfettered ability to track us in our homes, at work, at the doctor or at church. The Oversight Committee plans to fully investigate this issue to ensure that Americans’ privacy is protected.”
Surely, Congress has time to hold hearings about a matter of urgent concern to everyone who owns a smartphone or cares about the government using the most invasive corporate surveillance system ever devised against its own people.
The Solution: Trust Your Sensitive Communications to a Provider Who Removes Trust From the Equation
Until Congress suddenly and miraculously repairs the issue of these fragrant Constitutional violations, what is an individual concerned with their privacy and communications, or an enterprise concerned with the same do?
The answer is a clear and simple one. You chose to trust your sensitive communications to a private global encrypted communications provider who’s only founding principle is to vehemently protect it’s clients sensitive communications. Our entire product was built just for this purpose; to ensure nobody can eavesdrop on your sensitive phone calls, or messages. Big Tech, telecommunication providers, Internet Service Providers, the government and commercial data brokers all work with one another, and have all failed miserably when it comes to respecting the rights afforded to us, and enshrined by the US Constitution, and by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The only solution is to take matters into your own hands, and remove trust entirely from the picture. SecureCrypt’s encryption keys are created by the user seamlessly with the click of only one button. The rest happens seamlessly in the background, so users do not have to navigate complex Public Key Infrastructures. With SecureCrypt’s “Zero-Trust” approach, nothing can be seen by any prying eyes. Our application sits inside of an encrypted container isolated to itself on the device, and never seeks any outside permissions of any kind, for any reason. All data, including metadata is encrypted fully at rest and in transit. Not even us at SecureCrypt can see anything. We designed our infrastructure this way purposefully so users can always rest assured that nobody can listen to, or eavesdrop on your communications. Our Self-Destructing Messages, Remote Wipe, in-app Panic Wipe features guarantee nobody can ever get access to your private communications. Ever.
Our advanced security features gives the user an enhanced privacy experience unrivalled by any other commercial solution available on the market.
Keeping secrets is what we do, and we do it very well.
The future is private.