Apple has apparently filed a patent for software that would sense when iPhone users are trying to use their phone’s camera at live events — and disable it. The story has been mostly discussed in terms of how this “feature” would benefit promoters and broadcasters by limiting unauthorized videos of live events.
But my first thought was, “If concert promoters can block smartphone cameras, what’s to stop governments from doing the same thing during protests and rallies?
As we’ve seen in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere during this spring, images and videos taken with cell phones can be a powerful form of political speech — speech that must be protected at all costs. This photo of Egyptians protesters charging their cell phones says it all:
If we grant governments, private companies and yes, concert promoters the power to block our ability to capture events as they unfold, that power will be abused in no time. Mobile technology is the dominant technology of our time. Our smartphones are extensions of ourselves: They are becoming incredibly powerful tools for communication, education, political expression, community organizing and plain fun.
This fact, combined with Apple’s new patent, makes it clear that the mere ownership of an iPhone or an Android phone is a political act. Given the empowering nature of these devices, governments and businesses are all too eager to gain control of everything you do with them. This morning, Bryan Preston of Pajamas Media wrote:
I OWN the phone. Apple has no right to turn it off remotely. This opens up all sorts of disturbing possibilities, especially in totalitarian states, where the company might have an incentive to trade profits for personal liberty.
Meanwhile, mobile carriers are consolidating their control. Wireless carriers like Verizon are blocking smartphone apps they don’t like — even if that blocking is illegal — and AT&T is gunning for a takeover of T-Mobile that would create an unprecedented duopoly in the wireless market.
Now is the time for us to declare our independence from mobile carriers and manufacturers, and to make it clear that our access to data, devices, technology and networks — and our privacy — must be protected at all costs.
We’re quickly learning that the nightmare scenario of 1984 wasn’t just about governments controlling our speech and expression; in 2011, it’s about corporations doing it as well, often with the blessing of consumers. Let’s nip this one in the bud.