WILL APPLE ENABLE A POLICE BLACKOUT FOR YOUR NEXT PROTEST?
By Wiliam Boardman Email address removed"> Email address removed
The largely unreported story about Apple is that the company has secured a patent for an "apparatus and methods" that can disable mobile phones in public places, such as movie theatres or street demonstrations. American mainstream media have ignored the story to date and only RT.com on September 5 has emphasized its police state potential.
CNET reported the patent the day it was granted, August 28,
with an accurate but bland description:
"The technology described in a new Apple patent could force your iPhone
to act differently based on its surroundings." The story goes on to describe how a mobile phone could be
silenced in a theatre, classroom, or library, where other people would
appreciate not being disturbed.
CNET, a CBS-owned company, approaches the government control issues somewhat obliquely: "Or it could automatically go into sleep mode if entering a sensitive area where noises are taboo." Without exploring the possible ramifications of that observation, CNET goes on to note in an understated way that "some people would almost certainly object to the restrictions placed on the functionality of their own phones," adding reassuringly that the technology is still only in the patent stage.
RT.com addresses the authoritarian question directly in the headline of its story: "No shooting at protest? Police may block mobile devices via Apple."
RT.com is an internet service published by the Autonomous Non-Profit Organisation (ANO) "TV-Novosti," a Russian company. http://rt.com/about/disclaimer/
Reporting on the same Apple patent as CNET, RT.com characterizes it as "a piece of technology which would allow government and police to block transmission of information, including video and photographs, from any public gathering or venue they deem "sensitive', and "protected from externalities.' In other words, these powers will have control over what can and cannot be documented on wireless devices during any public event."
The concern is well-founded, since police have been increasingly held to account by citizen cameras, going back at least as far as the 1991 videotape of Los Angeles police beating Rodney King. Today, citizen video is a global phenomenon, whether documenting the Arab spring in Cairo or a p*ssy Riot protest in a Moscow Cathedral or a police killing in Anaheim, California.
The RT.com story seems to be spreading slowly on the internet as of September 7, appearing on sites like CopBlock.org
http://www.copblock.org/20583/no-shooting-at-protest-police-may-block-mobile-devices-via-apple/ posts rt story -- comments interesting
and TweetMeme.com, where there were 151 tweets over the first two days.
The Apple, Inc., patent Abstract is brief, written in neutral and euphemistic language defining the patent content: "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."
Apple filed the patent application on June 26, 2008. The Patent Office approved it on August 28 this year. The "Business Methods and Application" section, on pages 27-28 of the 29-page patent, anticipates using this technology in the context of " a terrorist threat or other security breach."
From a legal perspective, making the Apple app operational would have to overcome serious constitutional issues, including First Amendment free speech rights and Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure. That public policy debate has yet to begin. But it's foreshadowed in this exchange of comments on CopBlock.org:
DKSuddeth: the government definitely has too much power now.
Burn The Obedient : @DK, what do you mean now? They have been
operating beyond their legal reach for decades.
DKSuddeth : BTO, I do not disagree. In stating the obvious, i'm hoping
that the other sheeple beyond this sphere of the interwebs will see.
Another, anonymous comment suggested that, "if you want no shooting at protests, then we need an app that disables guns."