Notorious eavesdropper NSA issues guide to hiding your location data

Privacy news
2 mins

This post was originally published on September 2, 2020.

You couldn’t make this up if you tried.

The National Security Agency (NSA)—yes, the same organization that started a massive illegal surveillance operation on U.S. residents since at least 2001—has issued a set of guidelines to educate the public on the dangers of in-built location tracking in mobile phones and ways to mitigate them.

Lest we forget, it was the NSA that intercepted Americans’ phone calls and internet communications for years. In 2017, the NSA collected data from over 534 million phone calls and text messages, and it’s widely acknowledged that the agency was able to directly access the data of tech companies like Facebook and Google under the PRISM program.

Now, however, the NSA wants you to guard your personal details.

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The risks are out there, says the NSA

The NSA’s document “Limiting Location Data Exposure” states that “location data can be extremely valuable and must be protected.” It goes on to say that merely powering on a mobile device will expose location data; that’s because SIM cards will aim to connect to a network at all times, and providers are able to aggregate real-time location information if they so wish.

Malicious hackers can also set up rogue base stations that imitate legitimate cellular networks. Devices in the area may confuse it for a trusted network and attempt to connect to it, giving the perpetrators unfettered access to your data, states the NSA.

Oh, the irony.

The list of possible risks goes on. The NSA adds that anything that sends and receives wireless signals has location tracking risks similar to those in mobile devices. These include fitness trackers, smart watches, smart medical devices, Internet of Things (IoT) devices, and built-in vehicle communications such as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Wi-Fi enabled smart devices such as home security cameras and lightbulbs can also fall under this category.

Here’s how the NSA thinks you should protect yourself

In its advisory to the public, the NSA says you should do the following things:

  • Disable location services on your devices
  • Turn off Wi-Fi when not in use
  • Put the device in airplane mode when not in use
  • Give apps the minimum amount of permissions they need to function
  • Don’t use apps that rely on location services
  • Toggle privacy settings to limit ad tracking
  • Turn off Find My Device settings
  • Use a VPN

This is good advice, but also check out our suggestions.

I like to think about the impact that the internet has on humanity. In my free time, I'm wolfing down pasta.