Recently we have heard praise for encrypted phone calls, namely, the application Signal by Open Whisper Systems, designed for iPhone and Android. While Signal is one option for cellular calls, we underscore that such tools frustrate mass surveillance, but do not protect users under targeted surveillance.
Ironically, much of the Signal praise comes from journalists, who are more likely to be targeted than average citizens. Every United States adult with a cellphone is subject to broad surveillance under “mass surveillance” programs, remaining anonymous until analysts retrieve their records. This is nothing new. Analysts, investigators, and law enforcement officers may target specific people, however, before calls are made, and there are several vulnerable behaviors—points of targeting—that make attacking encrypted voice data unnecessary. The same may be said for digital data entered by keyboard, keypad, and touchscreen—the modulations, radio waves, and power currents.
To be safe, communicating by cellular phones requires more planning than opening and using an application. And thinking further, alternative methods reduce risk significantly more than encrypted cellular calls. Our aim is to outline, very broadly, why we do not make encrypted phone calls and offer, perhaps in passing, but in good faith for people in our network and dark trades, one communication method that relieves risks in targeted surveillance cases.