Digital Privacy and Security Tips

Digital privacy and security is of increasing importance. That is true for those involved in civil rights work, as well as everyone in society. Activists who support racial equality, gun rights, gay rights, and just about every other issue have been targeted by the police and other governmental agencies. Whether a person’s politics lean left or right, speaking up can cause governmental scrutiny and abuse. Beyond governmental abuses, common criminals steal identities and data, causing billions of dollars of harm and much grief every year.

The good news is that a few simple steps can go a long way towards improving your privacy and security, and that those steps will help prevent abuses by governments and criminals alike.

For the short version of what to do, I would recommend the following:

1. Install the Signal app. It allows for secure, end-to-end encrypted text messaging, group chats, voice calls, and video chats. Then, get your friends to install and use Signal too.

2. Use the TOR Browser. TOR provides anonymous web browsing, blocking trackers and defending against surveillance.

3. Use a strong password for your phone. Simple passwords can be easily broken. If you believe your phone may be taken, turn it off so that fingerprint/FaceID unlocking can’t be used to gain access to your phone.

4. Enable privacy settings on your phone. There are guides for Android and iPhone that go over the various settings.

5. Use a password manager. Using a password manager makes it easy to use strong, random passwords for each website. This is much more secure than reusing the same (easy-to-remember and therefore weak) password on each website. There are numerous commercial and free options.

6. Enable 2 Factor Authentication everywhere you can. 2 Factor Authentication involves using an app such as Google Authenticator to generate a 6 digit code that changes frequently. When you log in, you enter not only your username and password, but the proper 6 digit code. That way, a person who has stolen your username and password cannot log into your account unless they can also access that app on your phone.

For the longer version of what to do to improve your digital privacy and security, see the following videos:

Communication security for protesters (and everyone really)

I wanted to throw out a suggestion as to communication security.

I believe (and hope!) that we are in a pivotal moment in civil rights history that may prove to be just as important as the work done in the 1960’s. While that is great, it also causes to me worry about governmental interference. Whether that is local police with those Stingray cell tower simulators that allow them to capture and spoof messages, or some more concerted effort at the national level with all of the resources that the Federal government has available, I think it would be a good idea to make use of encrypted communications wherever possible.

The good news is that the free Signal app that is available for both iPhone and Android does all of that quite well for both voice and SMS. If you install it, it will automatically encrypt text messages you exchange with other people who have signal installed. Your ability to message with people who don’t have signal installed is just like normal. There are also an encrypted voice call function.

So, my advice (I’m a lawyer whose B.S. degree was in Computer Science) is to make use of encryption whenever possible. That advice applies to everyone, whether you are a protester or not.  There is no reason not to use encryption for your texts and voice calls when it is easy and free.

For concrete tips and software suggestions, see