BY MICAH LEE
If you’re taking to the streets to demand justice for the victims of police brutality and homicide, you may want to leave your phone at home. No matter how peaceful your behavior, you are at risk of getting arrested or assaulted by police. Cops might confiscate your phone and search it regardless of whether or not they’re legally allowed to, or they might try to break it, especially if it contains photos or video of their violent or illegal actions.
At the same time, it’s a good idea to bring a phone to a protest so you can record what’s happening and get the message out on social media. Filming police is completely legal and within your rights, and it’s one of the few tools citizens have against police brutality. It’s also important to be able to communicate with others in real time or to find your friends in case you get separated.
To reconcile this tension — between wanting to protect your privacy and wanting to digitally document protests and police misdeeds — the safest option is to leave your primary phone, which contains a massive amount of private information about you, at home and instead bring a specially prepared burner phone to protests.
I discuss how to do this at length below, and in the video above.
What if I Can’t Afford a Burner Phone?
I bought a Nokia 1.3 smartphone for $99, as well as three months of prepaid phone service for $40. If this is too expensive for you, you may have other options:
•If you have an old phone collecting dust in a drawer, as long as it still works and the battery still holds a charge, you can use this as your burner phone rather than buying a new one. You just need a new SIM card, like one that comes with prepaid cell service. Make sure to factory reset the phone before getting ready to protest.
•There are even cheaper phones and prepaid service options than the ones I chose, and these can work fine as well.
•If you want to avoid paying for phone service for your second phone, depending on your current cell phone provider and what types of phones you have, you may be able to remove the SIM card from your main phone and insert it into your burner phone, and then put it back after the protest. This will cause all calls and texts to temporarily go to your burner phone instead of your main one. You’ll want to make sure the SIM card slot on the second phone can accommodate the size of the SIM card you have on your primary phone.
If a separate burner phone still isn’t an option and you decide you need to bring your primary phone, here are some steps to take to make it safer and less likely for your private data to end up in the hands of the police:
•Disable fingerprint and face unlock, and instead require typing a passcode or password to unlock your phone. This makes it take longer to get into your phone, but it also makes it considerably harder for police to get in without your consent.
•Make sure your passcode or password is not easily guessable. If you’re using a numeric passcode, it should be at least 6 digits, but longer is better.
•Set up a SIM PIN, which prevents police from removing the SIM card from your phone and inserting it into another, which would allow them to take over your phone number. Here are iPhone instructions and Android instructions for doing this. If you set a SIM PIN, you’ll need to type it every time you reboot your phone in addition to your passcode.
•If you’re using Android, make sure your phone’s storage is encrypted (all iPhones have encrypted storage). On most Android phones, you can look in the Settings app, under Security > “Encrypt phone” to find phone encryption settings.
•Disable every smartphone feature that isn’t necessary like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and location services. You can also keep your phone in airplane mode when you don’t need to use the network. This will make your phone leak less information that police can use to track you. Continue Reading →