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July 9, 2020

Tips for Protecting Your Privacy While Protesting

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Massive protests are raging around the world. They’re fighting against police brutality and rampant racism in the United States and other countries. Despite many nations having laws to protect the right to protest, there have been several examples of law enforcement agencies fighting back, often with violence. This is just one of the dangers protesters face. Thanks to technological tools and the ubiquity of smartphones, protesters can be tracked down and arrested even after they leave the protest, which is a major threat to privacy. If you’re planning on joining the movement, protect your privacy while protesting with these tips:

  • Turn off biometrics
  • Encrypt device storage
  • Use a VPN to connect
  • Enable airplane mode
  • Bring a “clean” phone
  • Don’t bring a phone at all
  • Avoid social media
  • Other tips

Turn Off Biometrics

Many smartphones use biometric features as a way of easily unlocking devices. The most common methods are fingerprint scanning and facial recognition. They’re convenient and fast. Unfortunately, law enforcement can use biometrics against you. If you’re arrested at a protest, agencies can force you to unlock your device with biometric settings so they can gather incriminating (but private) information about you.

Instead of biometrics, use a PIN or password to protect your privacy while protesting. Although law enforcement can force you to unlock your device with biometrics, they cannot compel you to hand over your password without a warrant.

Encrypt Device Storage

If law enforcement does gain access to your device, you don’t want them to have access to your data too. You can prevent this by encrypting your device storage. This helps mask messages, photos, videos, and more, so nothing can be used as evidence against you (or erased as evidence against them). 

Use a VPN to Connect

One way of protecting your privacy while protesting is by keeping your identity and location anonymous. This way, law enforcement agencies can’t link you to a protest after the fact, or monitor your behaviour. Many protesters know they should turn their smartphone’s location services off as a way of avoiding geo-tagging. But did you know that you can also be tracked by connecting to the internet? Every network you connect to assigns you an IP address, which can be used to link you to a specific location. By connecting to wi-fi at a protest, law enforcement agencies may have the ability to link you to that protest.

As a way of protecting yourself, use a VPN every time you connect to a public internet network. These tools mask your IP address and can make it appear as though you are in an entirely different location. 

Enable Airplane Mode

Using a VPN is a good way of protecting your privacy while protesting. However, it’s not a perfect solution because there are other ways of using your smartphone to link you with a protest. Engaging airplane mode is a step up. This mode prevents your device from transmitting information via internet and cell towers, while still letting other features (like the camera) work.

Bring a “Clean” Phone

In addition to enabling airplane mode, consider bringing a “clean” phone with you, instead of your normal one. A “clean” or “burner” phone is a device you can use temporarily if you need to communicate with others. However, because they’re temporary-use, they don’t have the same wealth of information about you as your regular smartphone. In this case, even if the phone is confiscated, it won’t endanger your privacy because it contains no sensitive data.

Don’t Bring a Phone at All

The best way of protecting your privacy while protesting is to simply not have a phone with you at all. While it might reduce your ability to connect with friends and allies at protests, not carrying a phone with you prevents you from being tracked and monitored, or having your device confiscated.

Avoid Social Media

Social media is a popular tool for organizing protests. However, because of the public nature of social platforms, law enforcement agencies can use them too. This allows them to know where and when protests occur and who is attending. In addition, they can find and monitor your social media accounts as well.

Other Tips

There are other, non-digital ways of protecting your privacy while protesting. These are just a few of them:

  • Wear Muted Clothing: If you don’t want to stand out in a crowd at a protest, wear muted clothing without logos or recognizable graphics that blends into your surroundings.
  • Hide Identifying Features: Features like jewellery and tattoos can help law enforcement agencies identify you after a protest, if they’re pushing for mass arrests.
  • Cover Your Face: Facial recognition technology is advancing every day. By covering your face, you make it less effective (and also protect yourself against COVID-19, which is still raging right alongside the protests).

Protests are an important part of any free society. However, they can hurt your privacy and flag you as a target to be monitored or arrested. Protect yourself while protesting for equal rights by following these tips.

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