Signal Is the Messaging App of the Protests - The New York Times
Over the last two weeks, the number of Americans who have downloaded Signal, an encrypted messaging application, has skyrocketed. Many are using the app to organize and participate in protests against police brutality (without being spied on by law enforcement).
The week before George Floyd died on May 25, about 51,000 first-time users downloaded Signal, according to data from the analytics firm Sensor Tower. The following week, as protests grew nationwide, there were 78,000 new downloads. In the first week of June, there were 183,000. (Rani Molla at Recode noted that downloads of Citizen, the community safety app, are also way up.)
Organizers have relied on Signal to devise action plans and develop strategies for handling possible arrests for several years. But as awareness of police monitoring continues to grow, protest attendees are using Signal to communicate with friends while out on the streets. The app uses end-to-end encryption, which means each message is scrambled so that it can only be deciphered by the sender and the intended recipient.
SMS texts are not encrypted, so those messages can be read easily off the servers and cell towers that transmit the data. WhatsApp is encrypted but owned by Facebook. Many activists believe the application is only as secure as Mark Zuckerberg’s convictions.
Signal has also already been tested. In 2016, the chat service withstood a subpoena request for its data. The only information it could provide was the date the accounts in question were created and when they had last used Signal. Signal does not store messages or contacts on its servers, so it cannot be forced to give copies of that information to the government.
Signal also allows users to set their messages to delete after a period of time. And last week, the app introduced a “blur” tool for photographs, which can be liabilities for protesters. Many organizers suggest attendees wear nondescript clothing and face coverings, because police have identified people from protest footage.
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“I stood in front of a crowd of a few thousand people the other day and told them to wear as nondescript clothing as possible,” said Lilith Sinclair, 25, an Afro-Indigenous organizer who lives in Portland, Ore.