Engineer Makes Encrypted Mixtape The NSA Can’t Listen To

July 14, 2014 | Sophie Weiner

Software engineer and artist David Huerta has made a mixtape that is encrypted against NSA surveillance, for the express purpose of sending it to the NSA. This snarky subversion is inspired by the “cypherpunks” of the 90’s, whose open sourcing of encryption software allowed regular people access to government-level privacy enforcement. “I work outside the Pokemon business model of catching every user’s data or abusing it for state surveillance,” Huerta wrote in the Medium post announcing his project. He goes into the details of what followed from his idea to make a cassette mixtape using encryption software:

I instead made my own version of a mix tape with an Arduino and wave shield sandwiched in between two laser-etched pieces of transparent acrylic. The use of a giant-ass Arduino and wave shield was chosen since the (shitty) 44KHz wave file format gave it roughly the same audio quality I figured a wiretapped AT&T phone conversation would have. The use of transparent acrylic was to symbolically give transparency to the device you were using; A response to the hidden exploitation of proprietary smartphones by computery mercenaries like Finfisher and HackingTeam. This open-hardware device would not be a black box, figuratively or literally.

His mixtape needs to be unlocked with a passphrase in order to be decrypted and played. The finished tape was sent to the NSA headquarters in Maryland, “which apparently has a special mailing address for unsolicited packages like this,” Huerta writes. “The NSA can read my stupid Facebook updates but without my consent it will never be able to listen to my kick-ass mix tape, even if it’s sitting right in front of them.” (Image: David Huerta)