Apple was granted a patent last week that will enable it to wirelessly disable the camera on iPhones in certain locations, sparking fears that such techniques could be used to prevent citizens from communicating with each other or taking video during protests or events such as political conventions and gatherings.
The camera phone has revolutionized the flow of information in the digital age. Any time a major event takes place, news networks and video websites are immediately inundated with footage and photographs from the scene.
That could all change in the future however, with a flick of a switch, according to U.S. Patent No. 8,254,902, published on Tuesday, titled, “Apparatus and methods for enforcement of policies upon a wireless device.”
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 theater), 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.
In other words, an encoded signal could be transmitted to all wireless devices, commanding them to disable recording functions. Obviously, the way this will be applied will depend on what is determined to be a “sensitive area” by the relevant authorities. To put it bluntly, the powers that be could control what you can and cannot document on your wireless devices according to their own whims.
Given that the major technology companies are set to make wireless connectivity a major feature of the latest cameras, this development does not bode well for photographers and citizen journalists who are already experiencing a major crackdown on their first and fourth amendment rights.
Michael Zhang at Tech site Peta Pixel notes:
“If this type of technology became widely adopted and baked into cameras, photography could be prevented by simply setting a “geofence” around a particular location, whether it’s a movie theater, celebrity hangout spot, protest site, or the top secret rooms at 1 Infinite Loop, Cupertino, California.”