Snowden’s iPhone case tells you when you’re being spied on

Snowden’s iPhone case tells you when you’re being spied on


Edward Snowden is building his own iPhone case.
Photo: PubPub

When you think of Edward Snowden the first phrase your mind goes to probably isn’t “quality iPhone case manufacturer.” Nonetheless, the famed NSA whistleblower today announced that he has presented just such a smartphone accessory at an event at MIT’s Media Lab.

Anyone want to venture a guess as to the case’s unique selling point?

“This work aims to give journalists the tools to know when their smart phones are tracking or disclosing their location when the devices are supposed to be in airplane mode,” Snowden and collaborator Andrew “Bunnie” Huang note in a technical write-up of the work. “We propose to accomplish this via direct introspection of signals controlling the phone’s radio hardware. The introspection engine will be an open source, user-inspectable and field-verifiable module attached to an existing smart phone that makes no assumptions about the trustability of the phone’s operating system.”

The idea, essentially, is that even though people may think their iPhone radio is turned off, and the handset is not revealing its location to anyone, it is still possible for people to be tracked.

The tool Snowden proposes would attach to an iPhone and include a small display. Wires from the device would access the iPhone’s internal by way of the SIM slot, and would monitor any signals sent to the phone’s assorted wireless transmitters. In the event that a transmission is discovered, the iPhone could be made to either switch itself off immediately or alert the user.

Such an iPhone case could potentially be incredibly important in dangerous parts of the world where activists, human rights workers and journalists are at considerable risk if their location is leaked. While the device is still currently in the early stages of design, Snowden and Huang note that a prototype could be ready for production in the not-too-distant future.

Edward Snowden has previously praised Apple’s privacy initiatives, and called its battle over security the most important tech case in a decade, while also criticizing Google for not doing enough to fight the public’s side of this crucial issue.

In that light, we guess the fact that Snowden would make an iPhone rather than Android case makes a whole lot of sense. Even though it would make sense for similar tech to be expanded beyond the iPhone in future.


Daily round-ups or a weekly refresher, straight from Cult of Mac to your inbox.

  • The Weekender

    The week's best Apple news, reviews and how-tos from Cult of Mac, every Saturday morning. Our readers say: "Thank you guys for always posting cool stuff" -- Vaughn Nevins. "Very informative" -- Kenly Xavier.