Verizon customers outraged at the revelation that the company has been turning over their phone records to the U.S. government can do little to dodge the government surveillance program, even by switching phone carriers, telecommunications experts said.
"I think it's quite probable, given the breadth of the Verizon order, that similar orders have been granted for all major telephone companies," said Sascha Meinrath, vice president of the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank. "We are likely looking at a nation-wide fishing expedition of everyone's phone records and geolocation, updated daily and covering nearly every call originating in the U.S."
The Guardian reported late Wednesday that Verizon was turning over customer phone records to the National Security Agency to comply with a court order under the Patriot Act. The order, which took effect in April and expires in July, does not apply to the content of communications, but rather so-called metadata -- the location, duration and time of phone calls and the identities of callers.
It was unclear Thursday whether other phone companies had received a similar order because such orders are classified and the companies are barred from discussing them. Verizon and AT&T declined to comment.
On Thursday, the Obama administration called the collection of Americans' phone records "a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats."
Such domestic surveillance programs aren't new. USA Today reported in 2006 that the NSA was compiling a database of call records obtained from U.S. phone companies. In response, the Electronic Frontier Foundation sued AT&T on behalf of its customers, arguing the company had violated major privacy laws.
But in 2008, Congress amended the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to give the phone companies retroactive immunity from lawsuits.
"That basically pulled the rug out for plaintiffs," said Matt Wood, policy director at Free Press, a public interest group.
Wood expected "some sort of consumer backlash" against Verizon for its role in the newly disclosed surveillance program, but noted that past outrage over phone companies' participation in domestic wiretapping has been short-lived.
"People get angry, but that anger subsides after a while," he said.
Even switching to smaller phone companies would not shield Americans from government collection of their call records because small carriers run their data over larger carriers' neworks, according to Karl Bode, a telecom industry analyst and editor of the blog Broadband Reports.
"The sad irony of this is that consumers and taxpayers are the ones paying to be spied on, whether it's higher rates on their cell phone bill to adhere with wiretap requests, or the taxpayer dollars needed to expand the NSA's supercomputer warehouses being designed to dig through all of this data," Bode said.
Bode and Wood both said that upset Verizon customers do have one recourse: to vote for lawmakers who pledge to amend surveillance laws to protect privacy.
"Consumers like to complain about it, but it's unclear how many bother to vote their conscience at the polls -- which is about all you can do in response," Bode said. "Complaining on Twitter certainly doesn't accomplish much."
The Japanese government counter-terrorism practice of <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2007/11/20/us-japan-fingerprinting-idUST23858020071120" target="_hplink">fingerprinting foreigners who enter the country</a> may have inspired Doctor Tsutomu Matsumoto to invent "fingerprinting gels", a way of <a href="http://cryptome.org/gummy.htm" target="_hplink">faking fingerprints for scanners</a>. <a href="http://www.dansdata.com/uareu.htm" target="_hplink">Learn how</a> to make your own here.
White Noise Generator
Worried someone around you is <a href="http://articles.businessinsider.com/2011-07-28/strategy/29998051_1_bank-employee-consent-conversation" target="_hplink">secretly recording everything you do?</a> No fear! There's a relatively low-tech way to defeat such snoops, via white-noise-producing <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Productive-Home-Security-Prducts-Jammer/dp/B002PJ7PYS" target="_hplink">audio jammers</a>. These tiny devices use good ol' white noise to blur the sound picked up by hidden microphones and other surreptitious recording devices.
<a href="http://www.technologyreview.com/view/421768/silence-smart-phones-at-thanksgiving-dinner-with/" target="_hplink">MIT's Technology Review</a> calls it the newest, hottest Thanksgiving accessory -- but you can use phone-size "<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faraday_cage" target="_hplink">Faraday cages</a>" like this (sold by <a href="http://www.uncommongoods.com/product/phonekerchief?9gtype=search&9gkw=phone kerchief&9gad=6315569457&gclid=CKWq9s2krLICFcRM4AodwDoAAw" target="_hplink">uncommongoods</a>) to block your cellphone's call signal, WiFi and GPS. Handy now that<a href=" http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2012/08/federal-court-rules-cops-can-warantlessly-track-suspects-via-cellphone/" target="_hplink"> federal courts are ruling that cops can track suspects via cellphone sans warrant</a>, and <a href="http://www.zdnet.com/apple-patent-could-remotely-disable-protesters-phone-cameras-7000003640/" target="_hplink">Apple can remotely disable your phone camera with a click</a>. As security researcher <a href="http://nplusonemag.com/leave-your-cellphone-at-home" target="_hplink">Jacob Appelbaum said in an interview with N+1 back in April</a>, "Cell phones are tracking devices that make phone calls." So shouldn't you be prepared for when you <em>don't</em> want to be tracked?
Hidden cameras got you down? Blind them all with a simple baseball cap lined with infrared LEDs. <a href="http://creator.wonderhowto.com/amiehold/" target="_hplink">Amie, a hacker on WonderHowTo</a>, shows the world <a href="http://mods-n-hacks.wonderhowto.com/how-to/make-infrared-mask-hide-your-face-from-cameras-201280/#" target="_hplink">how to make one</a>, while <a href="http://translate.google.com/translate?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.oberwelt.de%2Fprojects%2F2008%2FFilo%2520art.htm&langpair=de%7Cen&hl=en&ie=UTF8" target="_hplink">this German art exhibition</a> lays out how these ingenious devices work.
These receivers reveal the telltale electronic crackle of hidden mics and cameras. Strangely enough, they were around long before "surveillance culture" became a <a href="http://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/ylsspps_papers/64/" target="_hplink">common phrase</a>. Today they're sold in all sorts of <a href="http://www.gadget-playground.com/bug-detection.html" target="_hplink">shops for surveillance paranoids</a>.
Sometimes hiding your face isn't enough; sometimes you don't want to be seen at all. For those days, there's camera maps. The <a href="http://www.mediaeater.com/cameras/locations.html " target="_hplink">NYC Surveillance Camera Project</a> is currently working to document the location of and working status of every security camera in New York City. This project has been replicated by others in <a href="http://www.notbored.org/boston.html" target="_hplink">Boston</a>, <a href="http://www.notbored.org/chicago-SCP.html" target="_hplink">Chicago</a> and <a href="http://www.bloomingtonsecuritycameras.com/map.html" target="_hplink">Bloomington</a>, Indiana. <a href="http://www.notbored.org" target="_hplink">Notbored.org</a> has even published a guide to making your own surveillance camera maps (<a href="http://www.notbored.org/map-making.html " target="_hplink">here</a>).
Credit to artist <a href="http://ahprojects.com/" target="_hplink">Adam Harvey</a> for this one. Inspired by the <a href="http://www.bobolinkbooks.com/Camoupedia/DazzleCamouflage.html" target="_hplink">"dazzle camouflage" </a>used on submarines and warships during World War I, he designed a series of face paint principles meant to fool the facial recognition schemas of security cameras. Check out <a href="http://dismagazine.com/dystopia/evolved-lifestyles/8115/anti-surveillance-how-to-hide-from-machines/ " target="_hplink">The Perilous Glamour of Life Under Surveillance</a> for some tips on designing your own camera-fooling face paint.
Walmart may be the premier symbol of corporate America, but its disposable cellphone selection can help you start a thoroughly maverick lifestyle. <a href="http://www.walmart.com/ip/TracFone-Samsung-S125G-Prepaid-Cell-Phone-Bundle/20933059" target="_hplink">$10 TracFones</a> work on most major networks, including <a href="http://www.prepaidphonenews.com/2011/12/how-to-get-tracfone-net10-or-straight.html" target="_hplink">AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon</a>, and come with minutes prepaid so you can dispose of the devices when you're done.
Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) chips are now <a href="http://electronics.howstuffworks.com/gadgets/high-tech-gadgets/rfid.htm" target="_hplink">regularly implanted</a> in passports, ID cards, credit cards and travel papers. These tiny chips make machine-reading your documents easier -- but could also let anyone with the right type of scanner <a href="http://articles.cnn.com/2006-07-10/tech/rfid_1_rfid-industry-rfid-journal-rfid-chips?_s=PM:TECH " target="_hplink">scrape your information <em>and</em> track your whereabouts</a>. Luckily, gadget geeks have come to the rescue again, this time with<a href="http://www.thinkgeek.com/product/8cdd/" target="_hplink"> RFID-blocking wallets</a>. Working on the same principle as the "phonekerchief", these wallets create a Faraday cage around your items, keeping their data secure until you take them out to be scanned where they're supposed to be scanned. Destroying the chip is simpler: <a href="http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-blockkill-RFID-chips/" target="_hplink">just nuke it in the microwave for five seconds</a>. Of course, whatever you're microwaving might <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4_5UYcyO3Pg" target="_hplink">burst into flames</a> first...