Protect Your Privacy at Protests

In a recent Life in Tech article, we looked at ways to protect your digital privacy, providing links, tools, and guidelines to help you navigate such topics and situations as “do not track” regulations, GDPR, medical privacy, border crossings, and seizure of devices. In this article, we’ll look more closely at how to protect your privacy at peaceful protests.

Understand the Risks

Not surprisingly, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is a great place to start for all topics relating to digital rights and privacy, and they caution:

Protecting your electronic devices and digital assets before, during, and after a protest is vital to keeping yourself and your information safe, as well as getting your message out. Theft, damage, confiscation, or forced deletion of media can disrupt your ability to publish your experiences. At the same time, those engaging in protest may be subject to search or arrest, or have their movements and associations mapped. They could become targets of surveillance and repression.

So, if you plan to exercise your right to peaceably assemble in the United States, it’s best to prepare yourself and your devices for any eventuality.

Be Prepared

The EFF has compiled a comprehensive list of guidelines and recommendations to help you decide what level of risk you are comfortable with and how to mitigate that risk. They outline steps you can take before, during, and after the protest, including dressing for anonymity and safely getting there and back. They have even produced a pocket guide that you can print and fold and keep with you for convenient reference.

In terms of general digital privacy, they recommend these basic steps:

  • Enable full-disk encryption on your device.
  • Disable biometrics, such as fingerprint unlock and Face ID.
  • Use encrypted messaging apps.
  • Make sure your data is backed up.

If you plan to use your phone to take or post photos online, Popular Mechanics recommends following these steps to ensure your digital security while protesting: 

  • Clear all of the metadata from your photos.
  • Blur the faces of your fellow protesters. 
  • Turn off location services. 

This Vice article goes even further and suggests you consider purchasing a new, dedicated device for the protest, such as a $100 Android phone. "Your privacy is worth more than that," says Matthew Mitchell, a founder of CryptoHarlem. “You could buy this with cash or a gift card too, so it's not linked to your credit card records. Don't turn it on when at home with your normal phone, and switch it off when you leave the protest.”

If you’re planning to attend a protest, do take the time to understand your rights and also take the appropriate steps to ensure that both you and your data are protected.