Silent Circle unveils Blackphone

Albert Gea/Reuters - The Blackphone, an Android software-based mobile phone, encrypts texts, voice calls and video chats.

For the past decade, cellphone manufacturers have been racing to make handsets ever more accessible to the Internet and all its social applications. But one local company is taking a different approach.

For those who like their privacy, say hello to the Blackphone.

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While smartphones are the focus at this year's Mobile World Congress, \

While smartphones are the focus at this year's Mobile World Congress, "phablets" are taking some of the headlines.

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Unveiled Monday at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the smartphone emphasizes security. It is the product of a partnership between Silent Circle, based in Oxon Hill, Md., and Geeksphone, based in Madrid.

Silent Circle, founded by a former Navy SEAL and the inventor of a widely used e-mail encryption program known as Pretty Good Privacy, has made its name as a start-up that encrypts phone calls and texts.

The company has been capitalizing on the surge of concern about security and privacy after last year’s revelations by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. Silent Circle executives said hardware was the next logical step.

“We were working on this long before the Snowden release,” said Mike Janke, the company’s chief executive. But security and privacy have “become a number one problem and concern [for] consumers and government and business alike,” he said. “It just so happens we got lucky.”

The Blackphone will feel like a regular Android phone, Janke said, but won’t have the default settings that give pre-loaded applications access to personal information.

Instead, the device will be powered by PrivatOS, an operating system that works with privacy-enabled applications.

Dutch telecommunications company KPN has agreed to be a partner carrier and will offer Blackphones in parts of Europe. Test versions of the phone will go out in April, and the Blackphone is slated to be available in June.

Janke said Silent Circle has already seen significant interest from government agencies.

To ramp up, the company is rapidly hiring for its Blackphone unit. The team is expected to grow to a couple of hundred people this year, Janke said.

Silent Circle is expanding its office space, making its fourth move in the past 16 months. The company is taking over 16,000 square feet on the top floor of a National Harbor office building.

And even before the Blackphone is released, Janke is promising a Black­tablet. “We’re building a family of products,” he said.

Capital Business is the The Post’s weekly publication focusing on the region’s business community.

 
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