Security considerations

There are obvious security issues for people who use mobile phones to capture video and photographic images or to record sound in sensitive or conflict situations. In addition, the possession of incriminating evidence on a mobile phone could put the owner at great risk in some countries if the phone is confiscated or found. Special care needs to be taken if and when content recorded on a phone is transmitted over the mobile network, as governments and authorities can force mobile phone service providers to hand over records of activity, which could be used to identify the senders and recipients of particular images. In Zimbabwe, for example, a Telecommunications Interception Bill (passed in August 2007) allows the government to monitor activity across mobile networks and the internet. Since many outlets insist that people buying SIM cards produce identity documents and register their phones with the mobile network, the sources of content transmitted on the network can easily be traced.

Networks also automatically track the location of every mobile phone whenever it is switched on (this is done for the purposes of routing calls and messages, but the information is retained by the server). People can therefore be linked to a specific location at a specific time. If this happens to be within an illegal demonstration, or puts a user within range of witnessing government brutality at a gathering, they could again be put in danger.

Each image that you make on your phone automatically contains details of the location, along with details of the date, time and type of camera or phone used; this is part of the JPG standard, the file format most commonly used for digital images. This information could be useful if you want to prove that you were in a particular place at a particular time to witness an event, or it could be particularly incriminating. Tools are available which enable this ‘hidden’ information to be viewed and, in most cases, stripped out before the image is forwarded as part of a viral marketing campaign, or posted on a website. You can download a freeware tool called JPEG stripper which will remove this information – called 'metadata' – from your images.

These issues are described in more detail in the Security section.