Edward Snowden is a traitor or a hero, depending on which side you’re on. Something that isn’t subjective, however, is the fact that he’s created a new smartphone security app called Haven.
Here's what Edward Snowden has been up to. [Photo by AFP/Getty Images]
Nowadays, you can’t be too careful. Haven, which was announced on December 23, 2017, is an app that allows you to have a personal and portable security system around you at all times. If there’s anyone who knows what it’s like to be careful about technology and possible hidden surveillance, it’s Edward Snowden.
Snowden first became known in 2013 as the NSA whistleblower who exposed the US government’s surveillance activities, revealing that people’s private correspondences weren’t as private as they thought. He has been living in exile in Russia to escape persecution.
Because of this, Snowden is extremely careful about surveillance, and for good reason. Though most of us probably don’t need to be as (rightfully) paranoid, Snowden thinks that Haven is likely to improve our lives.
Haven can detect changes in light and sound. [Image by the Guardian Project]
If you’re an ordinary citizen just going about your day, Haven may seem like overkill. However, if you’re a journalist, activist, human rights advocate, or anything similar in a dangerous country, Haven may just be a godsend. If you install the app on a burner smartphone, you can leave the phone with possessions—like a laptop containing sensitive information—that you want to keep secure.
Haven turns your smartphone into a kind of motion detector. It can send you an alert if it senses someone messing with your things or lurking around in your room. It can enable you to receive a notification if someone has broken into your friend’s house in the middle of night. Haven can detect changes in motion and light, then takes a record of the event. The smartphone can take photos, record sound, and even keep a log of changes in light. Thus, the phone can interpret these changes in its surroundings as evidence that your belongings are being tampered with in some way.
Haven’s introductory press release describes the app as a “personal security system”. It uses the phone’s camera, mic, accelerometer, and gyroscope—all components that most if not all smartphones have. Thus, even you’re not necessarily a foreign journalist getting spied on in a war-torn country, you can still benefit from the app.
Haven can send you alerts when it detects that something is amiss. [Image by the Guardian Project]
Once the app detects suspicious movement or changes in its environment, it sends an encrypted alerts to your primary smartphone. You can then check out what happened via Tor Onion, a server found on the dark web. This means that you can block third parties from accessing information unless you turn on SMS functionality.
"If you're the secret police making people disappear, Haven changes the calculus of risk you have to go through,” Snowden says. "You have to worry that every possible cell phone might be a witness."
Of course, there are those who are critical of the app, citing Snowden’s history as a whistleblower as the main reason. Still, if Snowden was able to spill secrets, he might know a thing or two about keeping them.
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