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How to protect yourself (and your phone) from surveillance

Cyber security and online privacy experts aren’t surprised by revelations that Quebec and Montreal police have been spying on several journalists. In fact they say journalists — and the public at large — are far too careless.

When the news came out this week that police had been spying on LaPresse journalist Patrick Lagacé, it was no surprise to Geneviève Lajeunesse with Crypto Québec.

“I was shocked by their shock,” she said.

​Here are five key tips to sum up Lajeunesse’s advice on protection from online surveillance, whether you’re a journalist, an anonymous source, or a citizen who wants to protect your privacy.

1. Leave your phone at home

It’s better to be paranoid than sorry, says Lajeunesse. She recommends that journalists who want to ensure their sources are protected leave their smartphones at home before any meet-ups. 

“I wouldn’t be bringing electronics out in the field at all.”

2. Turn off geolocation, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi

“If you’re a private citizen just going about, do you really, really need your geolocating services to be on? Most of the time you know the way to your house,” Lajeunesse says. 

She also recommends turning off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth when you’re not using them, to prevent your movements from being tracked.

“I was in a coffee shop and the I used their Wi-Fi once and that’s great, but it’s not. Because when you walk past [again] down the street, your phone is connecting and disconnecting, and … it’s saying ‘I was here. That’s where I was located.'”

3. Not expecting a call? Try airplane mode

Lajeunesse says it might sound extreme, but turning on the phone’s “airplane mode” is another way to avoid being tracked.

“You don’t need your phone to be talking with all those cellphone towers. If you’re not expecting a call or you’re not in the mood to get it, you have the right to turn this thing off.”

4. Use strong passwords 

“The four digits of your phone number are not good passwords … You’re not being original by using your wedding date,” Lajeunesse says. 

Using strong passwords, and unique ones, for each online platform is the best protocol, she suggests. 

5. Fingerprints or passcodes?

There’s a main advantage to unlocking your smartphone with your fingerprint, which is that it’s more difficult to replicate than a series of digits.

But using your fingerprint to unlock your phone doesn’t mean it’s perfectly secure, Lajeunesse warns.

“Teens … will add the fingerprints of their best friends on their phones, because … we’re best friends forever until we’re not,” Lajeunesse says.

The fewer people with access to your phone, the better, she says.