EFF in the News
Another option is to leave all of your devices behind and carry a travel-only phone free of most personal information. However, even this approach carries risks. “We also flag the reality that if you go to extreme measures to protect your data at the border, that itself may raise suspicion with border agents,” according to Sophia Cope, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “It’s so hard to tell what a single border agent is going to do.”
According to the purported CIA documents, spies have found ways to exploit holes in phone and computer software to grab messages when they haven't been encrypted yet. Although Apple, Google and Microsoft say they have fixed many of the vulnerabilities alluded to in the CIA documents, it's not known how many holes remain open. Cohn said people should still use encryption, even with these bypass techniques. "It's better than nothing," she said. "The answer to the fact that your front door might be cracked open isn't to open all your windows and walk around naked, too."
Wikileaks has offered to help the likes of Google and Apple identify the software holes used by purported CIA hacking tools -- and that puts the tech industry in something of a bind.
While companies have both a responsibility and financial incentive to fix problems in their software, accepting help from WikiLeaks raises legal and ethical questions. And it's not even clear at this point exactly what kind of assistance WikiLeaks can offer. If all goes well, WikiLeaks could emerge looking better than some parts of the U.S. government. "I am not a fan of WikiLeaks, but I don't think it is fair to throw rocks at everything they do," said Cindy Cohn, executive director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a group specializing in online privacy and other digital rights. "What WikiLeaks is demonstrating is that the CIA does not have the best interests of these companies at heart."
Several tech giants have said they are examining a trove of documents leaked earlier this week that purport to show the CIA's ability to hack into phones, computers, and smart TVs. Cindy Cohn, director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said the CIA had "failed to accurately assess the risk of not disclosing vulnerabilities." "Even spy agencies like the CIA have a responsibility to protect the security and privacy of Americans," she said.
In the week that WikiLeaks revealed the CIA and MI5 have an armoury of surveillance tools that can spy on people through their smart TVs, cars and cellphones, the FBI director, James Comey, has said that Americans should not have expectations of “absolute privacy”. Is privacy really dead, as Silicon Valley luminaries such as Mark Zuckerberg have previously declared? Not according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s executive director, Cindy Cohn. “The freedom to have a private conversation – free from the worry that a hostile government, a rogue government agent or a competitor or a criminal are listening – is central to a free society,” she said.
“The one thing that people can and should be doing is keeping their apps and phones as up-to-date as possible,” said Kurt Opsahl, deputy executive director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights nonprofit.
If the former real estate mogul is truly concerned about being the target of broad surveillance, he now has the power to change that by calling on Congress to reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. Cindy Cohn, the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s executive director, said in a statement that “the government has consistently stonewalled any effort to bring more transparency to secret spying orders. We’re still waiting to hear whether the president has concerns about government spying on ordinary, innocent Americans — so far he hasn’t shown that he does.”
Cindy Cohn, an expert on surveillance who runs the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an advocacy group for civil liberties, said the intelligence community had such expansive powers that Mr Trump should not be immediately dismissed as completely off base. “Part of what we need here is much more transparency to see if we are comfortable with what has happened. It is a big problem for the country if Trump tweets this out and nobody knows [what’s true],” said Ms Cohn.
The FBI could also have asked for a so-called “pen register” or “trap and trace device,” which record only the parties involved in a phone call. These requests have a lower bar for approval.While it's unknown whether any of these scenarios occurred, it's “very likely that the people in the Obama administration had access to the communication of senior Trump officials in the run-up to the election, because they have very, very broad authority,” said Cindy Cohn, executive director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has advocated for revising surveillance laws.
Poisonous political divisions have spawned an encryption arms race across the Trump administration, as both the president’s advisers and career civil servants scramble to cover their digital tracks in a capital nervous about leaks. The surge in the use of scrambled-communication technology — enabled by free smartphone apps such as WhatsApp and Signal — could skirt or violate laws that require government records to be preserved and the public’s business to be conducted in official channels, several ethics experts say. It may even cloud future generations’ knowledge of the full history of Donald Trump’s presidency. The wide availability of encrypted messaging makes secrecy easier than ever. “It’s certainly easier to circumvent public records laws in a written format now than it ever has been,” said Mark Rumold, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit group that pushes for government transparency.