Mobile Security and Privacy

There are obvious security concerns for individuals using mobile phones to capture video and photographic images during sensitive or conflict situations. If a phone is confiscated or found with footage that incriminates others, the owner could be put at risk. So great caution should be exercised at all times.

Special care needs to be taken if and when this content is transmitted over the mobile network as governments and authorities can pressure mobile phone service providers to hand over records of activity on particular phones and this could mean they need to hand over images you send across networks. In Zimbabwe, for example, a Telecommunications Interception Bill (passed in August 2007) allows the government to monitor activity across mobile networks and the internet. If a user's mobile number is registered with the mobile network then the ‘owner’ of the content can be easily traced.

Networks also automatically track the location of each and every active mobile phone (this is done for the purposes of routing calls and messages). This means that members of the public can be pinpointed to a specific location at a specific time. If this happens to be within a rights demonstration deemed illegal by the authorities, or it puts a user within range where they may have witnessed government brutality at a gathering, they could again be put in danger.

Mobiles with cameras also routinely store the location where an image was taken, along with details of date, time and the type of camera or phone used – called ‘metadata’ this is all part of the JPEG standard, the file format most commonly used for digital images. This information could be useful in some cases by proving that you were in a particular place at a particular time to witness an event but could also be undesirable, depending on the situation. Tools are available which enable this ‘hidden’ information to be viewed and, in most cases, removed before the image is forwarded to others. You can download a freeware tool called a JPEG Stripper which will remove metadata information from your images.

Mobile Security Checklist

  • Always use your phone's security lock codes or PIN numbers and keep them secret.
  • Security-mark the phone and battery with your postcode and street number or the first two letters of your house name
  • When using your phone, remain aware of your surroundings and do not use in in crowded areas or where you feel unsafe.
  • Avoid displaying your phone in public. Keep it with you at all times and do not leave it unattended.
  • The 15-digit serial or IMEI number helps to identify your phone. This can be accessed by looking behind the battery of your phone – it should be visible as a 15 digit number. For more information see this wiki entry on finding your IMEI number. Make a note of this number and keep it separate from your phone, as this number could help the police to trace ownership quickly if it is stolen.

For more information, visit the Security section of Mobiles in-a-box or see Security for Activists.

Further Information

More detailed information for campaigners looking to use mobile technology in their work can be found on Tactical Tech's Mobiles in-a-box website.
Email: mobiles{at}