Edward Snowden's App Turns a Smartphone into Security Equipment

The NSA whistle-blower developed an open-source app that transforms a smartphone into a highly-sensitive security system.
Shelby Rogers

In today's world, digital security can be just as important as physical security to those who find themselves constantly online. And in other parts of the world, "rogue" internet users like political activists, journalists, or even members of the average public risk their security each time they log onto the internet. However, one of the world's most notorious informants Edward Snowden developed an app to improve security for the average person. 

Yes, the NSA whistleblower and activist against digital surveillance created his own security and surveillance system. The app is called Haven, and it's an open-source app designed to use a phone's hardware into a full surveillance system. 

"We are announcing Haven today, as an open-source project, along a public beta release of the app," the website said. "We are looking for contributors who understand that physical security is as important as digital, and who have an understanding and compassion for the kind of threats faced by the users and communities we want to support.

"We also think it is really cool, cutting edge, and making use of encrypted messaging and onion routing in whole new ways. We believe Haven points the way to a more sophisticated approach to securing communication within networks of things and home automation system."

The app uses the phone's microphones, cameras, and occasionally accelerometers to monitor for sound and unsettling movement of the phone. The app can even use a phone's light sensor to send an alert if the room has an unexpected loss of light. 

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"Imagine if you had a guard dog you could take with you to any hotel room and leave it in your room when you’re not there. And it’s actually smart, and it witnesses everything that happens and creates a record of it," Snowden said in an interview with Wired. Since 2013, Snowden lived in Moscow, and the conversation with Wired was encrypted. 

Snowden partnered with a technologist at The Intercept and a board member of the Freedom of the Press Foundation Micah Lee. They gathered a team of developers together and partnered with a nonprofit Guardian Project to build a software that would counter constant surveillance. 

"We thought, is there a way we can use a smartphone as a security device," says Nathan Freitas, the director of the Guardian Project, in an interview with Wired. "Take all the surveillance technologies in smartphones and flip them on their head, to keep watch on all the things you care about when you’re not there?"

Snowden himself stopped carrying a mobile device since 2013. However, he's recently spent his time breaking apart smart technology and seeing how he can make them more secure.

"I haven’t carried a phone but I can increasingly use phones," he said in an interview with The Verge.

He partnered with a hardware hacker last year on the Introspection Engine. That worked as a phone case that monitors an iPhone's outputs and gives a user notice when devices sends signals through its antenna. 

Admittedly, Haven's most notable users thus far have been journalists and political activists in high-risk countries, Snowden noted. However, Snowden said that anyone should have piece of mind that their information is secure. 

"You shouldn’t have to be saving the world to benefit from Haven," said Snowden

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