Protection of sensitive data during the execution of FADe project

When FADe project began, we knew that we wanted to publish as much information as possible to help other researchers to use our data, both for work development and for educational purposes, however, during the execution of the project we noticed that through various techniques, some of the low sophistication and others much more complex, knowing in detail the data of the measurements made could lead to identifying those who operate these sensors. For this reason, during the execution of the FADe project, some measures were explored and established in order to protect as much as possible any information that could put at risk the operators and / or local teams involved.

It is worth noting that, as a fundamental principle of the project at a technical level, the sensors used do not interact in any way with the cellular network, behaving like cellular devices without SIM card that only eavesdrop to mobile towers in the same way as any device turned on, except by the fact that the sensor records this activity for later analysis. Due to this, in none of the jurisdictions where the monitoring was carried out (and in no other that we have investigated) the use of these sensors represent at any level illegal activity, however, given the nature and context of several countries in the region, we decided to handle the project in the safest possible way, given the possibility of criminalization of this study by security forces or other actors who may be inconvenienced by carrying out this sort of investigation.

Therefore, the following measures were taken for each stage of the project:

1. Preparing the measurement

  • Do not announce the intention of the project until its publication.
    • This includes cities and / or local allies before to authorization.
    • A google account was created for each smartphone, so if a sensor is compromised, it will not filter information about the others. This account would not have any numbering or indicative of how many sensors there would be in each city or how many cities were under monitoring.
  • Definition of a secure communication channel.
    • Signal.
    • An encrypted email with PGP (Pretty Good Privacy).
  • Protection of the database where the information would be stored.
    • Access only from preset IP addresses.
    • Access only using TLS certificates. (Transport Layer Security).

2.  During measurement

  • Avoid using cell phone mobile lines, or in case of using them, make sure that do not bear the names of people associated with an
    associate or  LCO (Local Coordinating Organization). In some cases, these telephone mobile lines were acquired on behalf of the regional coordinating team.

  • Buy local smartphones. Depending on the case, smartphones were acquired in each receiving city, to minimize the entry of various cellular devices by the customs of the country involved, especially in those contexts where the listing of foreign equipment can be criminalized or susceptible to illegal seizures by security forces.

  • Develop discreet sensor management strategies:
    • Inside cars, motorcycles, bicycles, etc.
    • In bags, drawers, bookcases, etc.
  • To take into consideration:
    •  In case of operational risks of any collaborating member of the project or other related activities, it was suggested to stop the measurement.
    • It was suggested that none of the LCOs were aware of the other monitored cities until after the analysis phase of the project.

3. During the analysis

  • Coordinate normalization, that is:
    • Use approximate locations, set a margin of error of about 300-400 meters (984-1312 ft).
    • Hide sweep frequency data; that is, the result does not reveal the number of readings on the same geographic point.
    • Apply the above described; greater computational efficiency can be achieved, analysis is faster, and also the servers used can be less powerful.
  • Avoid specifying measurement times:
    • Except in those cases in which this information does not reveal the operators (e.g., In a tiny travel area at a specific time), only the sensor and the collaborative team cell phones have been reported in the area).

4. During publication

  • Only publish those allies (LCO’s) interested in being related to the FADe project openly.
  • Avoid strictly  involving in events those organizations or allies that decided to remain anonymous.

This information is also available in .pdf format. Here

FADe project is an initiative of Southlight House with the support of the Open Technology Fund.


This website is available under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) License