Whether using an iPhone or Android device, it’s time to pay attention to what information we give away from our mobile devices and find the best app for encrypting messages.

Since 9/11, the US has become increasingly concerned with preventative measures to ensure that another attack didn’t happen. Airports have become an absolute nightmare to get through, torture has become a normalized practice (CW: graphic artistic renderings of torture in the link), and pretty much anyone with brown skin or a head-covering is at greater risk for Islamophobic attacks (Muslim or not).

Being trans didn’t mean I suddenly stopped experiencing white privilege, but it did mean that I was able to recognize how all oppression is connected.

All of this is easy to ignore if you were white, not a Muslim, and don’t have any disagreements with the authoritarian surveillance state that Bush established in the wake of that attack. As one of those people who clapped ignorantly at every effort to stop terrorism, I have had almost 20 years to reflect on the immense power and privilege that I wield without effort. Coming out as a trans was a catalyst for that reflection as I quickly realized how artificial and tenuous a thing like privilege is.

Being trans didn’t mean I suddenly stopped experiencing white privilege, but it did mean that I was able to recognize how all oppression is connected. Being trans also helped me reconnect with my love of computers and all things related to technology. As an ally and a race traitor in the making, I was attending more events in solidarity with the Black community in my neighborhood of Chicago. As it turns out, these two things were more related than I had previously thought.

What I’ve learned over time is that local, state, and federal authorities only need the flimsiest of excuses to spy on people and that they’ll do it anywhere, including protests for Black Lives Matter. The Chicago Police Department came under scrutiny after they convinced courts to let them use spy technology to gather cell phone data on people. The technology is called Stingray or King Fish. These devices trick your phone into thinking it’s a cell tower and transmitting your data over to it. Cops can then track your location and other data, but there’s not really a limit to what they can and cannot intercept from your phone.

That is unless you encrypt your messages with a secure messaging app like Signal. There are a few secure messaging apps on the market, but I recommend Signal because it can be used on mobile devices (iOS and Android) as well as your tablets and computers for free. Just download the app, tell it to make Signal your default, and from there you can import your contacts. The app has such features as self-deleting texts and encrypted phone calls. I found the encrypted phone call feature to work only some of the time, but it’s a neat concept that I hope continues to be improved upon.

Local, state, and federal authorities only need the flimsiest of excuses to spy on people.

The most popular and messaging app is WhatsApp and many consider it to be the most secure. However, WhatsApp was purchased by Facebook in 2014 and that association, on its own, is a cause for alarm. In 2018, Facebook sold immense amounts of data to Cambridge Analytica without the consent of its users. Facebook and WhatsApp have the appearance of being free but this data scandal shows that your information is not secure and will be sold to whoever is willing to pay.

The government, for one, has more than enough money to pay. In 2020, the Department of Defense was given $738 billion and the Department of Homeland Security was given $51.672 billion and that’s just the money they can spend publicly. There’s also something called a slush fund.

Unfortunately, if the government wants your information, they’ll take it, but you don’t have to make it easy on them. It’s not about whether you have anything to hide, it’s about protecting your right to privacy. Do you really want your sexts, nudes, and late-night emotional breakdowns easily accessible by any government official with the inclination to look through your phone data? It’s time for us all to make the switch to encrypting our messages and being more vigilant with our security.

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  • Jamie Saoirse O'Duibhir

    Jamie Saoirse O'Duibhir is an ordained minister and contributor for the ENnie award-nominated project Uncaged Anthology with a BA in Social Science from Shimer College. Jamie does everything while listening to some variety of metal, folk, or Disney Showtunes.