Sneaky or Secure? Silent Circle Offers Users Ultimate Privacy


Protecting your data and decreasing your digital footprint is becoming more important to the modern technology user. No matter what you’re doing, it seems there’s a way for someone (like the government or law enforcement) to track your every move — on the internet, your phone, or in your car or home.

Last October, startup tech firm Silent Circle released an app that allows off-the-grid phone calls and texts. The app even enables users to set texts on a “burn” timer, deleting the text from the sending and receiving devices after a specified period. More recently, the company is releasing a data-transfer app enabling encrypted file sending from smartphones or tablets. As long as both users in a communication use the app, all sent data will be secure from prying eyes. The app’s military-grade security has been hailed as a revolution in privacy – but is it too sneaky?

Should Total Privacy Be Legal?

Plenty of law-abiding citizens – especially those who have fallen victim to hacking scandals – will certainly appreciate Silent Circle’s technology. Keeping phone data private will prevent unchecked public institutions from spying on people. Like the ability to draw the blinds and lock our doors, the technology gives users a sense of security. Silent Circle’s services may be useful for promoting human rights in countries where free speech remains unprotected.

The fear is that Silent Circle’s services could be abused by criminals. Another concern is that activists (say, of human rights) in oppressive countries could use the technology illegally. Silent Circle’s terms of service warn against using the app for criminal purposes.  The question is whether the app could be banned.

What Privacy Laws?

There might not be some conspiracy to steal your data and frame you for murder, but it can’t hurt to protect your personal information and activity. There’s nothing wrong with having some barriers to keep your life private — right?

Privacy laws are still developing — but unfortunately not as quickly as technology is evolving. Law enforcement can ask phone companies for your records (not necessarily with a warrant or subpoena), but Silent Circle has pledged not to cooperate with surveillance requests.  If need be, CEO Mike Janke pledges Silent Circle will move shop to somewhere the app will be safer from government, criminals, and companies or hackers looking to abuse your data.

Under the Fourth Amendment, authorities are required to show a judge probable cause for needing a warrant before prying into phone records. Unfortunately, many law enforcement authorities are getting subpoenas based on needing records because they are relevant to a case. In other words, getting your phone records is way too easy. In 1979, the Supreme court ruled that the Fourth Amendment doesn’t apply to a list of phone numbers — meaning your call records. New York’s police department routinely issues subpoenas for such records from phones that have been reported stolen, using the excuse that call records could lead to the phone’s thief. These records could probably be used for just about any investigative purpose, however, putting the phone’s original owner at risk.  As a result, your call records go into a database — and there they stay.

Loose regulation on cell phone tracking is common, since phone companies don’t always ask for a warrant. As it turns out, law enforcement agencies across the country are using cellphone tracking in criminal investigations, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Although a recent Supreme Court ruling requires a warrant for GPS tracking in criminal investigations, warrants are all too easy to get. If you want your private life to stay private, don’t rely on the law to protect you just yet.

Keeping Your Data Safe

Until the law protects you the way the Constitution says it should, it certainly can’t hurt to encrypt your data via a service like Silent Circle. Your privacy is important, and there’s no shame — or crime (so far) — in keeping your data private.