TLDR: Just look for the –> arrows and do some of these things. If you only have capacity to do a few things, do one from each category, starting from the top.
Why are you making me read this?
As a movement, we’ve all been working hard together to adopt strong encryption practices, so we won’t focus on privacy here. Instead we’re thinking about resilience. Just imagine how awesome Signal is but also how much we all rely on it. How much paralysis, confusion, and fear would we collectively experience if we suddenly lost Signal? It is absolutely within the power of the U.S. State to shut down the servers that make Signal function (in a direct way, that can’t be circumvented using a VPN.)
This is not likely, but possible. Other possibilities, from very unlikely to most probable are:
- Widespread shutdown of the Internet and other communications systems
- Targeted Internet/communications shutdowns (e.g. affecting centers of urban uprisings)
- Blocking/censoring of activist social media accounts or access
- Permanently or temporarily shutting down secure communications services like Signal
- Permanent disabling of phones belonging to notorious “activists”
- Targeted blocking of phones/Internet of known “activists” (so they cannot connect to cell networks)
So what do we do?
Let’s work backward from this list, to prepare for the most likely scenarios first. But first remember to keep your devices secure by installing the latest security updates!
- If you’re a known organizer (based on your social media presence, or physical presence at protests/actions, or direct action arrest record,) the State could block your phone from connecting to voice/text and data cell networks. The block could be direct and temporary (using a Stingray-type device deployed at a protest or other action,) or it could be permanent (with the co-operation of telecommunications companies.) Telecoms could likewise shut down your home Wi-Fi.
–> Having access to Wi-Fi networks of your neighbors (your phone might be able to connect to Wi-Fi)
–> Preparing a burner phone. There’s a handy infographic and detailed guide here. In a government-declared “state of emergency” or natural disaster, you might decide to just switch to this as your main phone (and not worry about preserving the anonymity of the burner phone.) An easier alternative could be to arrange to borrow a phone from non-activist friends and family. You must prepare by sharing the burner phone or neighbors’ phone numbers with your local and regional activist networks.
- If your phone is permanently disabled (by complex hacking with cooperation of telecoms or cell phone manufacturers) you may lose access to your phone’s address book. So:
–> Have a paper list of contact info for your important local comrades and a few regional activists. Make two copies, carry one with you, but not in high-risk-of-arrest situations and stash the other in your go bag!)
–> Include phone numbers, @usernames, and perhaps a few physical home addresses in your local area and outside of it. Include both a major urban center and a rural region if you have contacts in each.)
–> Set up a computer with Signal/Wire/Keybase/Protonmail (traditional/laptop computers are harder to permanently block from networks) and practice using the apps on a computer at least once.
- Because Signal has become so essential to dissident communications, it would be most strategic for the State to eliminate Signal. In case this happens, we’ll need to use alternative encrypted messaging apps and be prepared by knowing how to contact each other by sharing your @usernames with your networks. And then: PRACTICE! Here are some good choices (we’ll add to the end of this quick guide some other just-okay as well as some only-use-as-last-resort options).
–> Wire: https://wire.com/download — Signal-grade encryption (“end-to-end” encryption) strongly protecting privacy of messages, photos/videos, and calls. Unlike Signal, it is not designed to conceal your network of contacts from the Wire service itself (meaning they could hand over to authorities who you are messaging, when, how often–your “metadata.”) The upside is that you can register with a @username, unlike Signal, and you don’t have to share your phone number with strangers.
–> Keybase: https://keybase.io — Signal-grade encryption, with more features (#channels, a filesystem,) so it can be hard to grasp at first, but can just be used for simple messaging, and you can save the other features for later, or more complex organizing.
–> Protonmail: https://protonmail.com — Easy to use encrypted email. A good choice for resilience because its servers are located in Switzerland. So the U.S. government could block access to Protonmail, but not easily shut it down.
–> Share your @usernames with your organizing networks, and practice using these apps at least once.
- If social media is widely censored, or activist accounts are blocked, you’ll need an alternative:
–> Set up Telegram groups for local and regional activist networks. While these are not great re: encryption (groups, unlike Signal and others, are not end-to-end encrypted,) you can make public groups where thousands of people can join. These shouldn’t be considered “secure,” but are harder to block, semi-private spaces that take the place of Twitter, for example, to share news and give real-time updates on action hotspots.
- If you live in an urban center such as the “anarchist district of Portland,” desperate authorities might black out the Internet for short times. In this case, having non-Internet modes of communication can help.
–> Get the Bridgefy app, set it up, and practice using it with your close contacts. Bridgefy isn’t strongly encrypted, but can function even if cellular and Wi-Fi networks are disabled or jammed. Bridgefy communicates over Bluetooth (a non-cell-network, non-Wi-Fi, radio frequency) “mesh networks” (that don’t rely on central network nodes like cell towers or Wi-Fi hotspots.) Although Bridgefy doesn’t require an Internet connection to function, it does need the Internet to download and connect with contacts.
–> Set up walkie-talkies (not a great option, since they are in no way secure, and require setting up and carrying specialized devices…)
–> Set up phone trees to disseminate information widely using cascading phone calls (each person calls 10 people, they call 10 people, etc.)
- If a major natural disaster occurs or the State goes totally bananas and blocks entire regional or nationwide Internet, ham radio, or satellite communications are your only options apart from courier networks (which are slow and, depending on travel conditions, may be risky). There are a lot of options, but the SpotX seems best for our purposes.
–> Think about obtaining a SpotX device for your region ($250,) activate ($20,) and subscribe ($12-$40/month) it. This device comes with its own phone number, and can send and receive (unencrypted) text messages to traditional phones.
What about a VPN?
–> Just use ProtonVPN (free or paid.)