Edward Snowden, the infamous ex-CIA contractor, was recently featured on Joe Rogan’s podcast. During the conversation, he discussed topics ranging from why he felt the need to whistle-blow, to the current state of U.S. and Russian relations. As expected, his appearance drew massive numbers and is already one of Joe’s most watched podcasts. Snowden gave his interview from an undisclosed location. Most believe this to be Moscow, where he has held asylum since August of 2013. The dialogue was compelling and all subjects were on the table during the unchecked airtime. Maybe the most intriguing part of the dialogue – Snowden’s succinct breakdown of how your cell phone spies on you.
“The big thing that’s changed since 2013 is now it’s mobile first everything,” said Snowden as he detailed the current state of surveillance. This comes as no surprise. Cell phone use has vastly overtaken any other medium of web connection. Among Millennials, smartphones are the most used device to access the internet, with a rate of 97%. That number is expected to rise even higher with Generation Z.
Snowden continued to describe how smart phones are able to provide information on their owner’s whereabouts, even while not in active use. “Every smart phone, every phone at all, is constantly connected to the nearest cellular tower. Every phone, even when the screen is off – you think it’s doing nothing. You can’t see it because radio frequency emissions are invisible, it’s screaming in the air saying ‘Here I am, here I am.’”
Another critical piece Snowden shares are the permanent records that big data companies are collecting and storing. Your smart phone has two IDs, the IMEI and the IMSI. According to Snowden, cell phone companies use the IMEI to permanently store records. The IMEI Database website states that the IMEI is a 15-digit number used to identify a device on a mobile network. As Snowden puts it, anytime you are carrying a cell phone that is turned on, there is a permanent record of your presence being created.
Shifting away from big data and permanent record collection, the notion that mobile phones “listen” to us has been a persistent concern for years. While some view this as an inconsequential byproduct that comes with the convenience of the internet at your fingertips, others argue the potential privacy violations directly infringe on U.S. citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights. If you aren’t aware, on June 22nd, 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that the Fourth Amendment does in fact protect citizens against the unlawful search and seizure.
The information Snowden provides is not unfamiliar. It simply hits home harder hearing it from someone informed on inner-workings of government surveillance.
Whatever your position on data privacy, it is meaningful to understand how your phone is able to compromise your confidentiality. The video below is Edward Snowden giving his full twenty-minute explanation of how your cell phone spies on you.
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