Apple secures Orwellian patent for remotely disabling iPhone camera

News Richard Goodwin 12:51, 5 Sep 2012

Apple has been granted a patent that will give it wireless control over its customer’s iPhone and iPad cameras

Apple, in the not to distant future, will be able to control whether or not you’re able to take pictures on your iPhone in certain locations thanks to a newly granted patent.

The patent – U.S. Patent No. 8,254,902 – itself is not new, we reported on this last year, but now that its official it could have some rather unpleasant implications.

For starters it inhibits what users can and can’t do with their handsets, which, in a way, is rather invasive and extremely Orwellian, particularly since once you’ve paid Apple money for one of their devices it is your property.

The patent itself, published on Tuesday, explains the technology as follows:

‘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.’

It then ventures off into much darker territory:

‘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.’

For instance, the idea that your iPhone would simply ‘go to sleep’ upon entering a ‘sensitive area’ – whatever that means – is frankly terrifying. Imagine being caught up in a politically sensitive event, say the London Riots, and not being able to use your phone?

Then there are terrorist attacks. What happens if you’re unlucky enough to be near one of those when it happens? Would that be deemed a ‘sensitive area’ and your iPhone rendered useless as well? The potential scenarios just go on and on, so we’ll leave it there. You get the point.

‘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,’ says Michael Zhang of Peta Pixel.

Whether or not this technology will make its way into actual devices remains to be seen. Apple registers hundreds of patents a year that never see the light of day, so just because it's been granted does not mean it will appear inside your next iPhone.

With things like this, it's also all about timing, which makes us think that Apple is probably saving this one for a rainy day, or, rather, for when the world descends into a fully fledged police state like the one depicted in George Orwell's 1984. 

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