Notorious whistle-blower Edward Snowden is working on a phone case which will warn users when their phones are being tracked.
So far only for the iPhone 6, the “introspection engine” looks like a typical bolt-on battery case, and can indicate to users in the handset broadcasts any signals, even when the phone is supposed to be off, or otherwise inaccessible.
In 2014, Snowden revealed that targets can be tricked into thinking their mobile phone is switched off when it is actually on.
This device may be particularly useful for journalists, activists, and human rights workers, who fear for their safety in hostile countries. Sunday Times war correspondent, Marie Colvin, is reported to have been killed after government forces in Syria hacked her phone.
Snowden’s phone case would ensure that state surveillance cannot track journalists undertaking sensitive work, however, by monitoring electrical signals to the phone’s antennae via tiny wires to the “introspection engine”.
These antennae are typically used by the phone’s radios, including Bluetooth, GPS, Wi-Fi, and telephone. However, if they start broadcasting when supposedly inactive, a message or alarm will alert users. The case even has the power to forcibly disconnect the phone’s power supply, shutting it down.
Snowden, working with collaborator Andrew Huang, explained that smartphones are the “perfect tracking device”, saying “If you have a phone in your pocket that’s turned on, a long-lived record of your movements has been created.”
They claim that law enforcement agencies, governments, and security services therefore target telecommunications devices in order to locate parties such as activists and journalists, who may be critical of them. They also claim that many cyber thieves work by installing malware which steals data unobtrusively, without any alert to the user that something is awry.
The case will contain a small computer and a screen, which displays a real-time readout of the phone’s status in terms of cellular, GPS, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth connections. These will be read from a connector which uses the phone’s SIM card slot; the SIM will be inserted into the case instead of directly into the phone.