Ever since U.S. National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden first revealed the broad scope of U.S. surveillance activities in 2013, there has been global concern about personal privacy in the digital age. On Dec. 22, a new mobile app backed by Snowden, called Haven, debuted in a bid to protect personal privacy with the use of an Android device.
Snowden is the president of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, which is a nonprofit organization that helps build tools and awareness to support journalists and whistle-blowers around the world. The Haven app is being built in partnership with the Guardian Project, which is building a set of open-source secure apps to protect privacy and personal security.
"Haven is for people who need a way to protect their personal spaces and possessions without compromising their own privacy, through an Android app and on-device sensors," the GitHub page for the Haven project states.
The Haven app is being built as an open-source project and is licensed under the GNU General Public License (GPL) 3.0. The GPL is what is known as a reciprocal license, meaning that anyone who modifies or adds to the code is required to contribute those changes back to the original project.
"The concept of Haven, as imagined by Micah F. Lee and Edward Snowden, is based on the notion that any smartphone could be turned into a personal, portable security device, to watch for unexpected intrusions into physical spaces," Guardian project founder Nathan Freitas wrote in a blog post.
The goal of Haven is to use existing sensors and capabilities of Android phones to help users detect potential surveillance risks.
"Haven turns any Android phone into a motion, sound, vibration and light detector, watching for unexpected guests and unwanted intruders," the Haven site explained. "We designed Haven for investigative journalists, human rights defenders, and people at risk of forced disappearance to create a new kind of herd immunity. "
Haven combines the hardware capabilities present on Android devices with secure open-source communications software. Among the software libraries used by Haven is the libsignal-service-java from OpenWhisper System, which provides a secure library for communicating with the Signal messaging service. Signal is a secure messaging app that Snowden has also recommended. In addition, there is integration in Haven with the Tor anonymous networking proxy service to help keep user connections more private.
"An important design goal of Haven is to not require the user to share data with any third-party, or to have centralized infrastructure," Freitas wrote. "The person we aim to help must have complete control of the system, the sensors and the captured data and media."
The Haven app is currently in beta and is freely available on the Google Play store.
Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.