(How to) Beat the police Stingray, FBI and NSA using a burner (for Dummies)

By Christopher Rice

There’s really no such thing as an untraceable call. If the government wants to monitor or collect data on your communications, it can almost always find a way. But prepaid disposable cellphones will make you harder to track.

Go to a mom-and-pop retail store and buy a prepaid phone with cash.

Prepaid phones known colloquially as “burners” can provide you with partial privacy. Even the NSA can’t track them with accuracy.

The term "burner phone" is a slang that refers to cheap, disposable pre-paid cellular phones. Burner phones are often associated with illegal activities; however, people can use burner phones for legitimate temporary phone numbers.

The big advantage that burners have over traditional wireless phones is that the user’s personal data isn’t logged at the point of sale or by the service provider.

Getting started just takes three steps:
  1. Buy a prepaid phone;
  2. Buy an airtime card;
  3. Activate the phone and add your airtime to your account.
It’s extremely easy. You can add airtime directly to the phone using a “pin” number. The exact process differs from carrier to carrier, though. You need to read the instructions on your airtime card.

Calls made on burners are generally transmitted over existing networks.

In 2012, a federal appeals court ruled that people using prepaid cellphones had no “reasonable expectation” of privacy, and that the government was free to track away.

Related: Underground America is back online. How to beat the police, CPS, DEA, FBI, IRS and NSA. How to beat any drug test, police sting and how to beat your court case and more.

Recent leaks on the US government’s domestic spying program, it appears that burners can be legally traced. It’s just a lot more difficult.

Q. Don't you still have to provide a driver's license for proof of identity so they can register it to you?

A. Prepaid carriers can’t share your personal information because it’s not collected from its users, unless you voluntarily submit it. You can give any name, or no name at all. Like all mobile devices, you can be tracked while using the device. The problem for law enforcement, or organizations that track phones illegally, is that the user can discard the phone whenever they please. By changing devices and making cash-only transactions, it’s possible to avoid detection.

Q. How does one put money on it then without having to register on AT&T's website using a name/credit card?

A. Phone card/time is sold in stores. Use cash, scratch off code on back and enter code into phone. Phone will load amount purchased. No ID required.

Related article: Don't ask your government for your privacy, take it back:

Using Stingray it’s not difficult for the government to determine your location based on your burner’s communication with cell towers.

You have to remember to leave your real cellphone at home. Even though your smartphone is off, it is still communicating with cell towers.

Each iPhone contains a unique Exclusive Chip Identification (ECID) number that identifies the phone to the cell tower. With access to the BBP via jail-breaking, hackers may be able to change the ECID, which in turn can enable phone calls to be made anonymously or charges for the calls to be avoided.

Bloggers, whistleblowers, and our founding fathers all made use of anonymity in order to freely speak unpopular or dangerous information.

The NSA doesn’t possess the ability to fully monitor prepaid phones, they can monitor devices given certain conditions. One of those conditions: Long-term use of the same device. Once they ascertain a phone’s number, they can track it indefinitely.

Two primary kinds of prepaid cell phones exist. Those that come locked to a particular MVNO, such as Virgin Mobile and Tracfone, and those that sell SIM cards that can insert into an unlocked device.

The simpler the phone, the better.

If you continue to use the same SIM card then it's all traceable back to your phone number/account.

The actual phone number for a GSM mobile device is attached to the SIM card. For the CDMA standard, the phone number remains with the phone itself. By changing either the SIM card (for GSM) or the phone itself (for CDMA), you may anonymously change the phone number.

Change phones or SIM cards frequently.

Another method of identifying a cellular device is through its MAC address. Tablets and smartphones come equipped with a WiFi chip. This chip include a unique identifier number known as a MAC address. Whenever your device connects to the internet over a wireless network, the MAC address is reported and recorded.

Third parties can still geolocate burner users by accessing a phone’s GPS and WiFi. Prepaid phones can also be tracked using the traditional, albeit less-accurate, method of cellular triangulation. However, even with such features enabled, locating a prepaid phone’s user remains difficult. Even the NSA has issues immediately locating and identifying prepaid burner users.

Ars Technica covered how the NSA seeks to thwart the anonymity offered by prepaid phones. Fortunately, the NSA’s methods aren’t 100% effective in identifying their users; prepaid burners still give users a means of sidestepping surveillance.

Use lazersms.com for receiving and sending SMS anonymously.

Reporters and editors should be extremely careful about how and where they store information that might identify an unnamed source.

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