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Burner phones are sometimes discussed, but rarely used correctly. We need to clarify what a burner phone is. A burner phone is a phone that aims at keeping you as anonymous as possible, not leaking your personal details. A burner phone is a single-use phone. It is turned on, used for what you need to use it, turned off and discarded. It isn’t a “field phone” or a “second phone”. It is a throwaway phone!
If you have decided you must take a phone to a demo but that taking your personal phone does not fit with your threat modelling, using a burner phone might be the best idea. A burner phone does not need to be a brick phone, it can be a smartphone (if you have sticky fingers or unlimited funds!), but if it is paid for, it should always be paid for in cash. The same goes for the SIM card inside the phone, you should buy one that does not require your details (for some folks this might even mean having to ask friends in a different country to send a few SIM cards!), and the credit inside should also be paid with cash. Purchasing burner phones should be done away from your town/city and certainly away from the shops you frequent. You should also consider aging burner phones, so that you always have some in stock for when they are needed, and so that they’ve been purchased quite some time in advance.
Once you have acquired your burner phone, SIM and credit, you should understand that if you turn that phone at home, that phone will ping your specific location, telling the phone provider where you live. For that reason, a burner phone should be turned on AWAY from your home and potentially even your city! Equally, you should remember that if you take your personal phone with you, then turn the burner phone somewhere else and then leave your personal phone in the car to go to the demo with your burner only, those two phones are now pinged in the same location, defeating the whole purpose of using a burner phone.
You should never have the burner and your personal phone together. If you are needing to take a burner phone to a demo because you want to ensure you can call your comrades on OTHER BURNER PHONES they’ve set up in case everything kicks off, you must leave your personal phone at home, turn the burner well away from home, and once the demo has ended, destroy the sim and the device and get rid of it for good. It isn’t enough to turn it off and take it back home, even if you haven’t used it! If it’s been turned on and has gone to a demo, a riot or a spikey action, that phone must disappear.
This is for a very simple reason which we will discuss more in depth in future articles, but your phone has an ID that tells the cell company where you are. If you think “well I never used it so I’ll keep it safe for the next one” and then you are arrested with it at the next demo, they can now connect you to the last demo too! It is not enough with changing a SIM card, you must get rid of both the card and the actual device.
TO SUM UP:
– A burner phone is a single-use phone
– It should be purchased with cash, never card, and never where you normally mingle
– It should only be turned on away from your home and other devices
– It should only talk to other burner numbers
– If you’ve turned it on for a demo, you must destroy device and SIM before returning home.
In the next episode we will talk about IMEI numbers. If you have questions about burner phones, please drop a comment!
Your local anarchist cyber-counsellor.