Blackphone 2 − The Panacea for Smartphone Confidentiality Concerns?

Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 11.17.05 AMBy Yayi Ding

The use of smartphones has proliferated in the past couple of years. Not surprisingly, many of the users of such technology are lawyers! However, even given their immense benefits, the widespread use of smartphones in the practice of law can raise ethical risks for lawyers, particularly when confidential client information is on the line (no pun intended). The newest “Blackphone 2,” a collaboration project between phone-maker Blackphone and security communications company Silent Circle, just might provide the answer that lawyers have been searching for.

As background, Rule 1.6 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct requires that lawyers hold private client information confidential. It states, in part: “A lawyer shall not reveal information relating to the representation of a client unless the client gives informed consent.” Rule 1.6 has been interpreted as having a negligence standard. In other words, as long as a lawyer takes reasonable steps to insure client confidentiality, he/she is in compliance with Rule 1.6. Conversely, a failure to take such reasonable steps may result in liability to the lawyer.

Knowing this much, what are some of the privacy risks that could be associated with the use of smartphones? Interception of wireless networks is one that easily comes to mind, especially given that smartphones are able to access the internet. Furthermore, movies have taught us that there is such a thing as “wire-tapping,” by which unwanted eavesdroppers can listen in on private conversations. Finally, there is always the possibility that a smartphone might be lost or stolen. In sum, there are various ways in which confidential client information could be compromised . . . yikes!

Enter Blackphone 2. On March 2, 2015, collaborators Blackphone and Silent Circle announced the second generation of its privacy-oriented smartphone (to be released in July 2015), along with a tablet device called Blackphone+ (Fall 2015). These devices will likely improve upon the original Blackphone (released in July 2014), which boasted robust security measures in its own right. Through a custom version of Android 4.4 KitKat called “PrivatOS,” the first generation device included protections that allowed Wi-Fi security (preventing Wi-Fi hotspots from capturing users’ information), private communications (e.g. encrypted voice and video calls), and remote wiping software (allowing users to control their phone’s data from anywhere in the world).

The new smartphone will add even more beefed up security to the already existing security features. For instance, it will come equipped with the “Silent Store,” the world’s first security-oriented app store, from which users can find numerous apps to help protect their privacy. It will have a “Silent Meeting” program, which encrypts voice data in conference calls and securely identifies participants in the meeting. Finally, other functions include “Silent Text,” “Silent Contacts,” and “Silent Phone,” all of which will help to keep communications encrypted.

The use of a secure smartphone not only helps a lawyer to meet his/her ethical duties of confidentiality under Rule 1.6, but also provides peace of mind to lawyers and clients alike. To that end, the Blackphone 2 has been boldly advertised as among the most secure smartphones existing today. In fact, Blackphone co-founder Jon Callas has expressed that the company’s central theme is that of “privacy, security, and control.”

Could Blackphone 2 be the answer that lawyers have long been waiting for?

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