Activists use technology differently. Sure, we have a lot of the same apps as other people. I mean, who doesn’t have Google+, Facebook, or Twitter installed on their phone these days? But the activist doesn’t settle for posting pictures of their lunch on Instagram, or watching videos on YouTube, and while it’s nice to be able to check the weather, and fun to throw birds at pigs in outer space, we just have different needs that aren’t always listed in the staff picks on the Google Play Store.
So here’s my “Must Have’s” list for activists, and everybody else for that matter. Because, let’s face it, you might not be an activist today, but you’re almost certain to find out why activists exist at some point in your life.
Chances are, you’ve heard about this one. There are lots of apps out there that let you report police traps, but Waze is the most popular, which means you get the most reports, and your reports reach the most people. Not only that, but Waze helps you navigate while traveling, which activists tend to do frequently, and if you’re traveling, you’re going to want cheap gas, and Waze helps you find that too. The only thing that comes close is Trapster, a good alternative if you’re at all concerned about Google buying Waze, given that whole NSA surveillance scandal.
Now, not too many people are happy about the government spying on us, but I really like to spy on the government, and people who want to keep their eye on the government, frequently want to listen to their radio transmissions. There are several apps for this in the Google Play store, but the most popular one, and the one I use, is Scanner Radio, by Gordon Edwards. No need to download multiple apps, they all use the same feeds, most of which are available at Broadcastify.com, or RadioReference.com. The only real difference between any of these apps is the interface and how they organize the feeds. Scanner Radio let’s you browse by geographic location, choose favorites, and even install widgets of the feeds you like most. You might also want to install the Signals app, to help you understand codes the police are using over the radio.
After we find out where the criminals, I mean government agents are, and what they are doing, the next thing we want to do is confront them. The problem with confronting government agents is, they are violent criminals with a bad habit of destroying cameras and other property. That’s why I installed UStream. UStream let’s you live stream video from your phone straight to the internet, it can post the link to your stream on Twitter, and Facebook automatically for people to find, and it will store the video there after your stream ends, whether it ends because you stopped it, or because the police bounced your camera off the curb. Qik is another alternative, and there are several – different – versions of it, but I found it does not work with some Android phones. UStream also has a social networking aspect to it, it provides a chat for people viewing live, allows people to follow your channel and get email updates when you go live, and if what you’re doing is popular you can be listed in trends on the UStream website. I particularly like the widget shortcut, which allows you to begin broadcasting with a single press on your home screen.
Now, as we’ve seen way too many times, people who confront and record the police run the risk of getting arrested, and there is not yet an app to prevent this. But we do have the next best thing, an app to tell everybody about it. I’m Getting Arrested was developed for Occupy Wall Street protesters. It sends a pre-scripted SMS message to a pre-determined list of phone numbers with a link to a Google Map of your GPS coordinates (Be sure to include 40404 for Twitter, 32665 for facebook, and 33669 for Google+ after you’ve configured these services to recognize SMS messages from your phone!). Remember to set the app up well before you might run into government agents, so it is ready to go when you need it, put the shortcut on your home screen, and for extra credit, load the app before your confrontation with agents of the State. It will bring up a target icon on your screen, long press that target and it will send out the SMS message with your location. Mine says “Chris Cantwell has been detained by agents of the State, the next message contains a link to his approximate location”, and a few dozen numbers are instantly notified of my problem, including my facebook, twitter, and Google+ audiences as well as my family, some lawyers and several well known people in the liberty community who can help get the word out. I cannot stress enough how important it is to call attention to your detainment, governments are like other criminals, they hate witnesses.
Our phones these days are expensive, and carry a lot of information, so if they are lost, stolen, or otherwise fall into the wrong hands, it’s good if we can maintain some measure of control over them, and that’s where Cerberus Anti-Theft comes into play. This app will help you in several ways, like allowing you to track your phone via GPS if it is lost or stolen via the Cerberus website, through the Cerberus website or an SMS message, you can also trigger a loud alarm on your phone, wipe the internal memory and SD card, take photo/video, record audio, lock the phone, get a log of recent calls/txts, and more. It can also be set to take a picture and send messages when a certain number of incorrect unlock codes are tried, as well as a host of other features. You did lock your phone, right? I use this app, and you should too.
Our phones can do a lot these days, but sometimes we still need to use our laptops or tablets that do not have cellular data enabled on them. That’s when “tethering” comes into play. Tethering is using your phone as a modem for your other devices, you can do this via WiFi, BlueTooth, or USB connections, it allows your PC or other devices to access the internet via your phones data connection. Chances are, this is against the terms of service for your data plan, so use with caution, but I’ve been doing this with all my phones for years and have never had a problem. I use WiFi Tether for Root Users, but if your phone isn’t rooted, you might be better off with FoxFi or PdaNet+. You really should root your phone though.
Don’t be at the mercy of your cell provider for signal, if you have no signal, but you are near a WiFi hotspot, you can always make calls and SMS through VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol). There are several apps for this in the Play Store, but I use Groove IP because it connects to my Google Voice account. (There is also a free version, Groove IP Lite).
If you don’t have a WiFi signal, Wigle Wifi Wardriving can help you find one, or help you get closer to the signal you’re using. This app will show you WiFi signals that are too weak for you to connect to, it will show you if the signal is encrypted, and constantly update the signal strength as you move around. As you get closer to the signal in question, the signal will get stronger, and once you’re in the -70 to -60 range, it should be usable.
If you need a cell tower, try OpenSignal. It will help you find towers in your area, and tell you how strong your cell signal is.
I think those are probably the “Must Have’s” for activists, I could go on and on of course, about how you need a bitcoin wallet, or how Dwolla has lower fees than PayPal, or how LiteCoin is the silver to Bitcoins gold. I mean, you probably already have a Barcode/QR code scanner, right? If you’ve bought tickets to events, you probably already have EventBrite. If you’re involved in any groups you probably already have the Meetup app. Who doesn’t have Caller ID w/ name in 2013? If you buy stuff on eBay, you probably already have a Package Tracker.
That’s all beyond the scope of this article, I only wanted to go into the Must Have’s for activists…
If you would like to add more security to your digital life, then check out my “Anarchist Android App Audit: Security” article.
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