Apple, Inc. was recently granted a patent enabling the company to remotely disable the camera functions on specific iPhones in certain locations; there are two schools of thought on the potential application for this new function.
The first is that Apple are trying to prevent the recording of concerts , live gigs and sporting events, or at least give the option to the organisers to disable all phones to record in certain locations, during events etc. This seems less likely because, content filmed on phones is hardly great quality; I doubt anyone has filmed a concert and then not bought the content, based on having a grainy phone recording instead.
The second slightly more sinister thought is that these options have been requested by law enforcement and governments. Sparking fears that such techniques could be used to prevent people from communicating with each other or taking video during protests or events such as political conventions and gatherings.
In the current inter-connected world, just about all of us are aware that user-generate content and especially video is easy than ever to take and easy to upload to an audience of millions within moments.
Most of us have seen just how influential user generated video has been in key events from political disruption in Egypt and Syria, to videos from soldiers in Iraq, this list can go on and on but we get the point.
The ability to record information and upload it instantaneously to millions of people is a key proponent of freedom and speech and in fact freedom.
This could now be under threat …
Theoretically, according to U.S. Patent No. 8,254,902, published recently, “apparatus and methods of enforcement of policies upon a wireless device” could be implemented with the flick of an electronic switch.
According to the patent:
Apparatus and methods for changing one or more functional or operational aspects of a wireless device, such as upon the occurrence of a certain event. In one embodiment, the event comprises detecting that the wireless device is within range of one or more other devices. In another variant, the event comprises the wireless device associating with a certain access point. In this manner, various aspects of device functionality may be enabled or restricted (device “policies”). This policy enforcement capability is useful for a variety of reasons, including for example to disable noise and/or light emanating from wireless devices (such as at a movie theatre), for preventing wireless devices from communicating with other wireless devices (such as in academic settings), and for forcing certain electronic devices to enter “sleep mode” when entering a sensitive area.
What this could mean, an encoded signal could possibly be transmitted to all wireless devices entering “a sensitive area” which would then disable all recording functions (video, camera, sound etc)
Now, whilst we can definitely envision there would be some very useful application for this type of technology, once cannot overlook the potential for abuse. It is in essence, a form censorship which cannot be allowed in any form.
Playing devils advocate and looking deeper into this type technology application, if wireless connectivity is now making it’s way into most high end cameras, will we see a similar blocking functions appear in those down the line, potentially blocking journalists and reporters from covering an event?
Whilst this is all speculation and companies file patents all the time, we think it is a good idea to get this information out there and ensure that it is well known to technology companies that:
The ability is remotely control our personal devices by 3rd parties is definitively not something we value or want in any of our devices, period.