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Can the NSA Hear You Now? Encrypted Blackphone Unveiled

<p>Will smartphone users pay a premium for privacy?</p>

Before former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked thousands of classified documents, encryption was mostly the province of cryptographers and other privacy advocates. Now Silent Circle wants to make it as easy as turning on your smartphone.

The company has paired up with Geeksphone, a small Spanish smartphone maker, to create the first “encrypted smartphone” meant to provide secure communications without a lot of hassle. It was unveiled Monday at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

In terms of specs, the Blackphone is pretty solid: a 4.7-inch touchscreen, 2 GHz quad-core processor and 16 GB of storage.

What makes it special is the modified Android operating system, named, appropriately, PrivatOS. It offers anonymous searches, more control over app permissions, and frequent security updates.

The phone also includes Silent Circle’s suite of apps — which let you send encrypted text messages, phone calls, video calls, and file transfers — and encrypted cloud storage with SpiderOak.

Unfortunately, ponying up $629 for a Blackphone doesn't make you an instant security expert. Sending a text with Silent Circle requires the other person to have the same software, and it’s not cheap.

Buying a Blackphone includes a two-year subscription to the service, which otherwise would cost $249. A two-year SpiderOak subscription is also included. It’s normal price tag? $120.

That means after two years, you and the people you communicate with will end up paying those subscription fees. Do people care enough about their privacy to pay up? Some might. Others, however, will keep using 1234556 as their passwords and probably pass on Blackphone, maybe buying the new Samsung Galaxy S5 to play some unencrypted Candy Crush.