This piece is an opinion editorial written by Anthony Feliciano, who works as a consultant and event organizer for Bitcoin.
It should not come as a surprise that we live in a state of widespread surveillance. The technology that was developed to assist our society in becoming more productive and energy efficient is now the greatest threat to our ability to maintain our privacy and self-sovereign well-being. Take a look around you: everything from smart refrigerators to smart light bulbs, nanny cams to smart televisions, computers, Ring, Google Nest, Alexa, and our smartphones are all capable of being used to spy on us, and that’s just the list of devices that are doing it before you step outside of your house. They are all fitted with cameras, sensors, and microphones, which enable them to observe and record our every action, feeling, and movement. A great number of people will point to the Patriot Act as the moment when the United States government first started spying on the communications of its own citizens, doing so in the name of “national security.”
This will be a two-part essay series, and the first part will discuss “why” you should begin to build an opt-out plan when it comes to your smartphone, and this is especially important if you are a Bitcoiner. This will be the first post in the series. The “why” question is relevant not only to Bitcoin users, but also to anyone else who is interested in regaining their privacy, such as journalists and/or those who live in authoritarian regimes.
The second section will focus on “how” to opt out, and I will present you with several tools and choices to assist you get started on this journey. However, you will still be able to use Bitcoin.
The Methods That Are Utilized By Cellular Service Providers to Spy on Us
I’ll start with cellular providers and speak about some of the technologies that are now being used by them. These tools are ones that are already at their disposal. You have certainly heard of some of these terminology and technologies before, but you might not be entirely familiar with how they operate. The most important thing to keep in mind is that any information obtained via the use of these tools may be susceptible to a subpoena issued by a court or an agency of the government.
Smartphones sold by cellular service providers are sometimes referred to as “leasing” phones because customers pay for them on a month-to-month basis. They are packed with an excessive number of apps, all of which are branded by the carrier and cannot be deleted. The majority of the
A mobile operating system, often known as a mobile OS, is the software that controls your smartphone. It functions similarly to a version of Windows, macOS, or Ubuntu that is installed on a regular computer. There are currently two companies that hold the majority of market share in the smartphone industry. Apple and Google both. When we use Google or Apple services and agree to their “terms and conditions,” we grant those companies access to every element of our lives, including the private as well as the public ones. Since we are not required to make use of any of these services, those who claim that Big Tech is spying on us have only ourselves to blame for the situation.
*Note: In this section, I will be addressing two initiatives that are designed to assist Android users with their opt out plan. Apple users, I’m sorry to say that you won’t be able to jailbreak your iPhone until it becomes simpler to do so.
Apps: There are far too many of them on our mobile devices. When was the last time you downloaded an app that did not require access to every element of your phone in order for it to function properly? Almost every program that we download requires access to our personal information, such as our contacts, phone, SMS, images, and GPS location. All of this with an emphasis on “collecting information for better customer experience.” Considering the rise in the number of malicious apps aimed at cryptocurrency users, shouldn’t we pay closer attention to the apps we install and the permissions we grant them, especially considering that we, too, have Bitcoin and LN apps that reside on our phones?
Trilateration: Global Positioning System (GPS) The signals that our cell phones constantly broadcast in the hopes of receiving “acknowledgement” signals from adjacent cell towers are used in GPS. The greater the number of towers that our smartphones connect with, the greater the precision with which we can determine our locations, down to the exact feet.
*Note: Even turning off your GPS won’t guarantee safety in this situation. This is due to the radio that is contained within our cellphones, which maintains a connection to any nearby cell towers. This won’t be able to pinpoint your exact location, but it will give just enough information to provide the vital details about were you were at a specific time.
SIM switch attacks are carried out when a con artist successfully impersonates you through the use of social engineering and then contacts your cellular service provider in an attempt to deceive them into transferring your phone number to a SIM card that is in their control. The objective is to obtain temporary access codes for your accounts that can only be used once. When discussing Bitcoin, the targets of this type of attack are typically centralized exchanges. This is exactly what happened when a con artist carried out a SIM swap attack in order to steal a one-time code from the victim and then extract their cryptocurrency. There are numerous other terrifying instances like this one involving attacks using SIM swapping with the intention of emptying someone’s cryptocurrency accounts.
Stingrays are a type of physical devices that are utilized by many government agencies all over the world. The idea behind the attack is that Stingrays can function as “fake” cell phone towers by providing a stronger signal. This gives the impression that your smartphone is communicating with a nearby tower, when in reality, a third party is acting as a man-in-the-middle and recording all data (text, calls, and data) that is transmitted from the person of interest. The information can then be used to gather intelligence. The most significant problem with this approach is that all of the personal information of anyone who just so happens to wander by the location that was intended for surveillance. When this strategy is employed, the privacy of everyone in the immediate area is put at stake.
Rallies against social, political, or economic injustice: If there was ever a better illustration of why you should use a burner phone or a device that focuses on your privacy during these events, it was the fallout from the Canadian Truckers Rally and the events that took place on January 6, 2021. In the months that followed the events, governments collaborated with large technology companies to locate and arrest a large number of individuals simply by checking their social media feeds or issuing subpoenas to carriers for their customers’ cell phone records. These records from your cell phone were utilized to ascertain whether or not you were in the vicinity of such demonstrations in order to prosecute persons. It bears repeating that you should under no circumstances bring your regular phone to a demonstration of this kind. Always pack a backup phone that you are willing to lose or destroy in case something goes wrong.
How to Get Started With Opting Out
To get started, head on over and CalyxOS or GrapheneOS to do a little bit of reading there. These two projects are comparable in nature and offer an excellent alternative mobile operating system that is independent of Google services and all of the tracking that comes with it. On their individual websites, you may find a list of devices that are compatible as well as directions to the installation process. The popularity of these two initiatives among Bitcoin users has grown significantly during the past year. I will provide links to the privacy apps that I use, as well as Bitcoin and LN apps that can be used in conjunction with a phone that has been de-Googled. This will allow you to continue using Bitcoin despite the increased risk of being tracked and spied upon.
Remembering that privacy is a right is something that everyone of us should do, and neither should we treat it flippantly nor give it up for the sake of convenience. Nothing can guarantee your safety and privacy one hundred percent, unless you choose to live off the grid in the middle of the wilderness. If you think the concept won’t go down well with your wife, you should at least investigate the possibility of creating an opt-out arrangement with regard to Bitcoin and communication.
This is a post that Anthony Feliciano has contributed as a guest. The opinions presented are wholly the responsibility of the individual and do not necessarily represent those of the