Slog Music

Music, Nightlife,
and Drinks

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Blackphone and Privacy as Commodity

Posted by on Thu, Jan 16, 2014 at 10:41 AM

Meet the Blackphone, supposedly the world's first secure, NSA-proof cell phone, cooked up in a Switzerland-based joint venture between Silent Circle and Geeksphone:

Blackphone is powered by a "security-oriented" Android build called PrivatOS. It's carrier- and vendor-independent, and enables users to make and receive secure phone calls and video chats, exchange secure texts as well as transfer and store files.

Exact specifications of the phone haven't been revealed, but Silent Circle CEO Mike Janke claims it'll be a "high-end" smartphone.

If I were a feisty attorney waging a class-action lawsuit against the NSA, I'd footnote the Blackphone as evidence that US agencies have quietly put parts of the Bill of Rights up for sale. You want Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure? You have to pay for that.

And take a look at the advertisement video for Blackphone:

The woman who represents the phone—target customer? Human avatar for the tech?—is slipping around the city, practically in block bloc gear. In certain political circles, there has always been a fetishization of living in the black—unidentifiable, off the grid, moving the in dark. Sometimes that's practical, sometimes it's worrisome (as commentators pointed out during Occupy, crowds of emotionally charged young white men wearing masks were not the most welcoming atmosphere for anyone who wasn't a young white man in a mask), sometimes it's just irritating. (Nothing says "look at me! I'm important!" like ostentatious secrecy.)

But now Americans in general seem increasingly uncomfortable with living in the glare of the surveillance-state spotlight. Will people—presidents, movie stars, kings—start buying products like Blackphone? Will other people ditch cell phones altogether?

Will backlash against the NSA give a new shade of meaning to the phrase "black pride"?

Thanks to Slog tipper Greg.


Comments (13) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
Cato the Younger Younger 1
Freedom comes at a cost: and a 24 month contract with your carrier
Posted by Cato the Younger Younger on January 16, 2014 at 10:51 AM · Report this
Booooring. Call me back when the Blackphone's baseband processor is running open source software.…
Posted by aaronbrethorst on January 16, 2014 at 11:06 AM · Report this
dnt trust me 3
My wife is a child of gothic new wave - Joy Division, Bauhaus. So she still mainly wears black. Me on the other hand, have a royal blue shirt on today, with dayglo yellow stripes on my sneakers.
Posted by dnt trust me on January 16, 2014 at 11:11 AM · Report this

Call me when unicorns are flying out your butt.

The perfect is the enemy of the good.

Silent Circle has published some of its source code on Github; it's worth a look.
Posted by Begin with a single step...repeat on January 16, 2014 at 11:39 AM · Report this
I wouldn't trust this much further than Skype. If it's a black box with proprietary parts, it isn't secure.
Posted by Paul F on January 16, 2014 at 12:01 PM · Report this
Just don't text on it . . . .…

Plus, WikiLeaks and the Trans-Pacific Partnership:…
Posted by sgt_doom on January 16, 2014 at 12:09 PM · Report this
MrBaker 7
There would be so few of these devices that the individual phones would present their own anomaly in the data transaction web/mesh.

Much of this can be explained by Dr Suess' Cat in the Hat (tv special), and the term calculatus eliminatus.

Camouflage I have seen doesn't involve a great big black box perched on somebody's head.

If you really want to hide then you would do it in plane view and with the most normative signal and transmission possible with what is being transmitted random and changing, blending in with the noise but unstable in its signature from broadcast to broadcast.

It wouldn't be a test pattern that screams, "don't look at me!", that's like screaming, "I'm not drunk!", at a party.
Posted by MrBaker on January 16, 2014 at 12:29 PM · Report this
@4: I'm still not excited. You can run (for some definition of "run") AOSP on your phone today and look at all of the source code today. But there, just like here, the baseband is still a black box.

Perhaps a better way of phrasing my earlier comment would've been "nothing to see here."
Posted by aaronbrethorst on January 16, 2014 at 12:57 PM · Report this
sirkowski 9
Soon to be advertised on the Alex Jones show.
Posted by sirkowski on January 16, 2014 at 1:14 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 10
Needs a dazzle mask
Posted by Will in Seattle on January 16, 2014 at 1:43 PM · Report this
Timrrr 11
This isn't secure. It's the paid-for illusion of security.

It simply marks the point in history where our market-driven Commercialization Ex Machina ingested Security Theater whole, then shat out Product*. Another shiny new way to further indebt yourself as suave for your ever-increasing insecurity & paranoia.


*Manufacturers Warning: Indebtedness and a tendency to seek salvation in the next shiny & new solution may itself result in an overwhelming, generalized sense of insecurity and paranoia in some or all users. We'll be offering a new Product to counter that in the next cycle.
Posted by Timrrr on January 16, 2014 at 4:21 PM · Report this

...or nothing revolutionary here yet.

However, what Secret Circle and Geeksphone are demonstrating that is different since the Snowden leaks began is that there is a strong and growing interest and demand for this type of product and service, which will make it possible for true innovators to get the financial and logistical support they need to do even more and better development...sooner.

If for only that, this team's work is important.

...and they're actually an impressive, little team; so, I'd rather spend my energy encouraging and supporting their work, rather than disparaging it so early in the process, which doesn't serve to help anyone working on this challenge.

They've actually made significant progress in the last year, and while this phone won't be secure from NSA hacking or carrier snooping, it will be more secure than most others in the commercial market...which is progress in the right direction.

But, we do agree - this project needs to become completely open source for its goal to be realized. So, those of us who support this work are putting constant, yet friendly pressure on them to move forward with their already stated commitment to bring their development out of the lab and into the open source community. Like most developers, though, they're not quite ready to introduce the whole of their creation to the world (soon, code monkey, soon), but they have made it available to some open source developers working on parallel projects. So, patience.
Posted by Progress, Not Perfection on January 16, 2014 at 10:03 PM · Report this
After reading presentations of the tools the NSA has at it's disposal for physical attacks on electronic devices, I wondered how hard it would be to scan a device for spyware implants / chip substitutions, etc... Alas, the features in modern chips have gotten so small that you have to polish microscopic layers off of the chip, and use a scanning electron microscope. i.e. there is no non-destructive way to check if someone bugged your phone in transit by substituting one chip for another.

I am just as worried about our government's safety as the peoples' safety. How many congressmen are walking around with compromised phones that could be targeted by drones in a military coup? I hope their moronic tweets are coming from assistants standing a block away!
Posted by drewm1980 on January 17, 2014 at 2:28 AM · Report this

Add a comment


Want great deals and a chance to win tickets to the best shows in Seattle? Join The Stranger Presents email list!

All contents © Index Newspapers, LLC
1535 11th Ave (Third Floor), Seattle, WA 98122
Contact | Privacy Policy | Terms of Use | Takedown Policy