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How to have an anonymous phone conversation

Do you think your government doesn’t have the means to listen to your phone calls?

Think again.

Governments from around the world, not just exclusive to North America, have technologically advanced eavesdropping programs which can capture mobile phone conversations without anyone ever knowing.  And just in case the government isn’t so technologically advanced, they coerce wireless carriers into coughing up encryption schemes (cough, cough, Russia)…

Unless you have your own two-way encryption or intricate scrambling mechanism, there is no way for you to prevent this eavesdropping. What you can do, though, is make sure the government doesn’t know who’s on the line.

Right now, there are two key data points which identify callers to snooping federal agents:

First, the wireless signal from your conversation transmits unique identification codes that link back directly to your specific wireless account… and your wireless account contains a host of personal information– name, address, social security number, and naturally, phone number.

Second, most legitimate mobile phone handsets and data devices have a special serial called an IMEI number.  IMEI stands for “International Mobile Equipment Identity,” and it serves to uniquely identify a piece of wireless equipment.

In theory, the IMEI number is only associated with the equipment; in practice, though, wireless companies monitor and track who is using a particular piece of equipment… their systems are constantly matching a handset’s IMEI number to the subscriber data found on the SIM chip.

You can see your own IMEI number by pressing “*#06#” (as in star-pound-zero-six-pound) on your mobile phone. The number indicated on your screen is absolutely positively linked to your wireless account.

In other words, when you use your handset, the wireless company knows it’s you, and so does the government.  Just like unencrypted email communication, mobile phone conversations are about as private as shouting something across a crowded subway station.

Personally, this bothers me on a philosophical level… not to mention that there are times when I just want to have a private conversation with somebody without having to worry about which federal agency is taking notes to put in my file.

As you could imagine, I have a solution.

Do you remember when you first signed up for your mobile phone service? In many places you have to give the company all sorts of information and identification– even for prepaid service. It’s actually quite revolting.

There are some countries, though, where buying prepaid mobile phone service doesn’t require three forms of ID, a stool sample, and a reference letter from your priest… you just walk up to the counter, give them the money, and they give you a SIM chip. Simple.

While there are several countries where you can do this (Uruguay, China, etc.), I believe that Panama poses the best solution. Here’s what you do:

The next time you find yourself in Panama, go to any shopping mall or electronics store and buy a prepaid mobile phone SIM chip– the one you want to buy is called “Mas Movil Roaming Prepago,” and it should cost you about $5.


Mas Movil Roaming Prepago is a prepaid mobile phone service that was specifically designed for use outside of Panama– it works very well in the United States, South America, Spain, France, Belgium, Ukraine, and Russia.  Sorry Canadians, no service there to the best of my knowledge, eh.

Your shiny new MasMovil SIM chip will have a unique Panamanian phone number that is NOT tied to your name. The next thing you need to do is purchase a new mobile phone– there are plenty of cheap phones in Panama to choose from, many ranging from $10 to $20.

Again, this new phone will NOT be tied to your name personally.  It is important that you ONLY use this phone for your Mas Movil Roaming Prepago chip, otherwise it could compromise the anonymity of your new phone’s IMEI number.

Lastly, since Mas Movil Roaming Prepago is a prepaid service, you will need to buy several top-up cards to charge the balance on your account; these top-up cards come in a variety of denominations– I would suggest an initial balance of at least $20 and recommend that you buy a few spare top-up cards to recharge your account once you’ve left Panama.

Naturally, it would behoove you to pay cash.

Now, for the price of less than $50, you have a new phone, phone number, and charged-up SIM chip, none of which are tied to your name.  When you return to your home country, you will be able to call anyone you wish knowing that you are completely anonymous.

Call rates are $0.99/minute in the United States, so use sparingly.

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About the author: Simon Black is an international investor, entrepreneur, permanent traveler, free man, and founder of Sovereign Man. His free daily e-letter and crash course is about using the experiences from his life and travels to help you achieve more freedom.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • http://underconstruction Bill Young

    Good grief ,,, I think the takeaway from the gov’t eavesdropping issue is, or should be by now, a commonly understood actuality. It’s Big Brother time, end of story. So, just don’t shoot your mouth off, on the phone, about any weird stuff that’ll attract attention to you. Big deal makers know this. If some wacko is so stupid as to blab about his or her wacko intentions, then they need to be caught. They’re stupid … And, pulling off the Panama gig is cool, but who is gonna just blow down to Panama, buy the set-up and use the deal for a buck a minute ? Anyone at that level has easier ways to communicate privately.

    Keep it coming …
    B. Young

  • Wade

    I tried the *#06# on my Verizon Wireless phone, and it did not work. Also I can buy a phone here with prepaid minutes and give them no personal information, so it is anonymous.

  • Expat X

    “When you return to your home country, you will be able to call anyone you wish knowing that you are completely anonymous.” Just remember not to ever say “Hi Jill, this is Elliot Tretzalewska from Point Barrow.” Heh.

    In the US, at least for now, one can get Virgin Mobile service without any sort of ID (they’ll put whatever name on it you like, same with the associated email address, if you choose to provide one), and then pay cash for top-up cards.

  • Me

    I’ve not looked into this but using skype and VPN protection (cryptohippie is pretty good) may offer similar protection. I’ve been told by cryptohippie that skype conversations are anonymous but have not verified this.

    • Carlos

      Skype uses AES-256 encryption which is about as good as it gets. Unlike many websites where info-security implementation is piecemeal, the skype guys are real techno gurus (http://www.skype.com/security/detailed-security/#review). And if you never use skype-out/in (VOIP to land line paid service), it’s completely anonymous. Of course the problem is getting other people to use some funky new internet thing where you have to get the audio mic and speakers set up properly.

      Can the NSA hack into AES encryption? I can’t imagine so, but Simon would know better (if he’s allowed to say; though I’m wondering why he didn’t bring it up). As long as you use a decent password (not family member birthdays) and are not using it to call land lines, I think it’s pretty secure.

      • Anonymous


        Skype handed over their encryption algorithms to the NSA by court order some time ago. Actually I don’t trust any encryption as whatever the government releases technology into the public domain, it’s usually AT LEAST 20 years old (sometimes more than 50). If you don’t think they have teams of mad scientists with beards to the floor walking around underground NSA installations, who built quantum computers that long ago, you are either in denial or you need to get drunk in the bars around the inside of the D.C. beltline for a few years.

      • http://rauschenbach.us Möpsi

        I don’t know that anyone has built a real quantum computer yet, but the spooks might pretend that they have, while “dowsing” the information field for the answers. Regardless, the govts have placed their big bets in both areas, and you have just heard where I think they are more likely to have had their success, since so many others have. I would not even trust one-time-pad encryption, because I don’t think electronic secrecy is a practical concept. Quantum/molecular invalidates and obsoletes electronic/photonic, and likewise information field invalidates and obsoletes quantum/molecular. Everything else is 30-50 years in the past, and it was not even any good back then, except as comfort for those who put their faith in it (hmmm, that sounded slightly religious).

        For confidentiality, I would either just fly under the radar and hide my information in plain daylight, or just avoid computers altogether.

  • Joel

    Re:anonymous phones. You mentioned in addition to Panama where one can get the SIM chip you referred to, to wit, China. I will be going there early next year. Could you possibly tell me – or your subscribers – what to ask for or what it is called by name in China (Hong Kong also?) and if a similar phone can be bought as well? (I should think so given the entrepreneurial and copying skills in that part of the world.)
    Also how about the idea of buying a number of these chips and phones as well as time on each to stash in places just in case, or to give to family members for emergency – and private – contact? Does this make sense?

  • Adrian

    Simon, take a look at what the Canadians can do, eh!
    Spy agencies allowed to eavesdrop on Canadians abroad.

  • BorisV

    Err… What’s wrong with just buying a Tracfone with enough pre-paid minutes in the closest Walmart? Pay cash, refuse to give your personal info when you activate the phone, just do it via phone itself, not thier website, that’s it.

  • Bob Hays

    FWIW, I just posted a trip log regarding Panama under the Black Paper release topic. In it I comment on getting a Movil cell phone.

  • Cathy

    I am in Panama and went to get a cell phone. First, they told me the phones for $10 only work in Panama. To get a phone for USA and Europe, I had to pay $50. Then, when paying they asked for my passport and would not sell me a phone without me filling in an ID number on their forms. Of course, I filled in a false name and made up a passport number. Even though I speak Spanish–haltingly–I can understand everything. But whenever I balked at their “requests” and tried to buy time to think, they figured I was yet another stupid American and let me have my way. They actually got very exasperated at one point, yelling at me in English. So I bought a phone without showing a passport, but I suspect if I looked smarter or spoke better Spanish, I may not have gotten away with it…

  • Dexter Morgan

    If you *REALLY* want to have a secure conversation, meet the person face to face, and whisper in each others’ ears. Make sure no one can see your lips moving. Otherwise, your conversation could be picked up and recorded– where it can be listened to (or read) at any time. Please do not trust *ANY* encryption method– the NSA has cracked them all. I know what I am talking about– cryptography is my field. Another way is to use a “dead-drop”, but that can be compromised if you are not keeping the drop under surveillance 24/7. Messages should be encrypted with a paper-and-pen “one-time-pad”– which is the only encryption method that has not been (and probably cannot be) cracked. Just Google “tradecraft”, and go from there.

    Of course, if you are not doing anything illegal (like not reporting your offshore accounts, trusts, and controlled foreign corporations, or not paying taxes on your world-wide income if you are a “US person”) then you have nothing to worry about…

    • Chris Leigh

      “NSA has cracked them all”.

      Uh, no. If cryptography is really your field, you wouldn’t make such a conspiracy-theorist claim.

    • Stella

      Dex. Think “warning calls”.

  • Anonymous!

    You can activate a Tracfone on their website without giving any info. At the bottom of the form asking for your name, etc. is a small link saying “Skip This Step”. Just click that and you will be on the activation page.

    This will keep your name overtly out of a customer database, but you can still be easily identified by governments or the mafias that run them, based on the location information that your carrier keeps on you. The address where you phone is every night is your home address.

    As characters in a near-future sci-fi novel, you can:

    – register the phone from an anonymous computer

    – get a “faraday bag” that (supposedly) blocks all signals and make sure the phone is in the bag whenever you get anywhere near any place that identifies you

    – this makes charging difficult; you can charge with the SIM card removed and battery in (you removed the SIM card away from your home), but the phone is probably still broadcasting its IMEI number; so you’ll have to slip the charger plug into the nearly-closed faraday case (and hope the phone doesn’t overheat while charging

    – this leaves the problem of voice recognition while you’re talking on the phone, and of course facial recognition on surveillance cameras when you are signing up anonymously (but you wore I disguise I hope), or just walking around

    – finally, the faraday case itself is problematic because it seems they can only be ordered (from Web sites that cater to security agencies) by mail-order, with a credit card; and anyone ordering one of those is certainly a “person of interest”

    Of course you *could* try writing your congressmen to demand strict privacy laws for private industry, and adherence to the U.S. Constitution for government agencies.

  • Ren

    It is such an interesting way. But I hope they develop it for skype too. I learn chinese conversation on skype at Preply and sometimes I worry about hackers that may tap my conversation.

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