Now that Lindsay Mills has reunited with her exiled boyfriend, Edward Snowden, in Russia, the NSA whistleblower blower seems to be content. But after his announcement yesterday, we can see that there might be one other little aspect of his life that he is missing from his pre-leaking days; something that would be missing from ALL of our lives if we ever found ourselves without it… The smartphone.

Although it is common knowledge that Snowden is living in Russia, his exact whereabouts are a secret that he intends to keep, and he is rightly concerned that cellular signals from a smartphone could be used to locate him. Because of this concern for not only himself, but for activists and journalists as well, he and a renowned hacker, Andrew “Bunnie” Huang, announced yesterday that they have completed the protocol for “Introspection Engine,” which is a device they devised to keep both hackers and government officials alike from snooping on citizens.

Most cellphone users believe that putting their phones on airplane mode will keep their smartphone from transmitting radio signals. This fact is true of unhacked phones, but they state that, “trusting a phone that has been hacked to go into airplane mode is like trusting a drunk person to judge if they are sober enough to drive.”

The Introspection Engine will help correct this. As shown in their presentation at the MIT Media Lab, the device, which resembles a case and is an add-on feature as opposed to an item that would integrate with the phone, not only monitors specified radio signals and alerts owners to any unauthorized signals, but it will also shut down all the radio signals to prevent hackers and governments alike from tracking the user’s location.

While an external device might seem cumbersome, it is a necessary evil; remaining separate from the smartphone protects it from any malicious software or technical glitches that would be used to track the owner’s location.

Although the Introspection Engine, which is supported by the Freedom of the Press Foundation, is only in developmental stages, Snowden and Huang predict that they will have the first prototype built within the next year. Currently the design is for the iPhone 6 exclusively, but they plan to design an Introspection Engine for all available smartphones, so that journalists around the globe can start protecting their locations as soon as possible.

Photo credit: Laura Poitras / Praxis Films, CC BY 3.0,

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