Three free safety apps for protestors

4 mins read
Photo: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

Police violence and digital surveillance shouldn’t be used to intimidate peaceful protestors. These free apps protect protestors exercising their First Amendment right to “assemble peaceably and to petition their government.”

Safety measures
Protestors should minimize their digital footprint to minimize unwanted surveillance by:

  •  Put phones into ‘Airplane Mode’ so they do not use cellular services that can be monitored
  • Not connecting to Wi-Fi hotspots near the protests as they are easy to spoof.
  • Disable their phone’s location services so as to not disclose physical location
  • Use secure codes to log in rather than fingerprint or face recognition

This blog explains how to use free apps to:

  • Securely share places to meet with friends at the protest site
  • Use bluetooth, peer-to-to peer communications rather than cell or WiFi services
  • Be aware of nearby law enforcement activity

Sharing locations securely
What 3 Words is a free service that precisely maps every location on the planet with just three words. It can be used from a laptop or through a mobile app even without internet access. Just mark the location you’d like to meet and get three words. Share this with other protestors and they know exactly where to meet.

In this example, the meeting point is Lafayette Square in Washington DC. The three words marking the location are “Games, rush, unit” which can be shared with friends as a text or tweet. Other protestors simply enter the three words into the app to find the meeting spot.

Communicate securely off the internet
Protestors can better protect their privacy by messaging over Bluetooth rather than WiFi or cellular connections. Bluetooth messages are sent by radio signal making them harder to monitor. Messaging apps extend the 35 foot range of Bluetooth with a peer-to-peer network where messages ‘leapfrog’ from one phone to another till they reaches the intended recipient. Bluetooth also offers several other benefits:

  • Peer-to-peer encrypted messaging and forums
  • Messages are stored securely on your device, not in the cloud
  • Connect directly with nearby contacts without internet access

Free iOS app:        Berkanan
Free Android app:  Briar Project

Be aware of local police activity
Protestors should monitor nearby by police activity with freely available police scanner apps. These apps use information that departments have made publicly available, but please refer to the license agreements of individual apps. Comments from ZipScanner:

“Airwaves in the U.S. are public property and information sent over them does not presume privacy which was established in the 1934 Communications Act. Some radio bands are blocked on scanners such as cell phone and some military bands where privacy is presumed, but all other frequencies are considered public. For an understanding of radio bands in the US and how they work please read Key Police Scanner Concepts & Overview“.

Police scanning apps offer features such as:
– Alerts about on-going activity and breaking news, location, and feeds
– Listen to feeds in the background while you run other apps
– Listen to feeds on your desktop/laptop computer from your browser or mp3 app

Free iOS app:        5-0 Radio Police Scanner
Free Android app:  Police Scanner X 

Take away
Protest peacefully – and safely. Let us know of other good, free or affordable apps here and we’ll review them. Thank you.


Co-Founder, DemLabs

Please share this blogDemLabs, a project of the Tides Advocacy Fund, is a SF-based, progressive hub for ongoing technology and creative innovation with free and affordable apps. Donate here to support our work.

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