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The Arab spring hit Egypt with full force, and we watched a country band together to rid itself of a ruler with whom it could no longer live. We all heard the media coverage of a “Twitter revolution,” and despite government attempts to black out the Internet, citizens found new and innovative back doors that allowed them to use social networking to organize protests, secret meetings, and shape the revolution. To many of us, it seems unlikely that this could happen in the United States, but we may be closer than we think. Companies are already working across the United States to develop a technology that would enable them to remotely shut down cell service. This is a lot more complex than shutting down a cell tower, however. This technology can wirelessly shut down one single phone in a car, or it can disable an entire geographical area, no matter the carrier.
How This Technology Works
The technology operates in different ways depending on the situation the phone company is dealing with. For drivers, the technology could read your Bluetooth and car speaker in order to determine if a phone is being used. It then uses the strength of the signal and sound to determine the location of the phone and can turn interrupt service to the phone held by the driver. If the phone is in the cup holder, the effectiveness of the technology drops considerably, and either the driver or passenger could be affected.
Apple is currently working on applying this technology in a different way; cell service could be disabled simply by location. When your cell phone connects to any particular access point—say, in a movie theater or protest locale— and if that network bans cell phone use, your phone’s display and noise would be disabled. Apple has already secured a patent to work on this technology. Whether or not they put this into development and actually begin using it cannot be known; it is certainly being investigated and potentially manufactured, however.
Though Apple currently holds the patent for developing the technology to wirelessly control cell phones, certain areas of the country have already adopted similar technologies. Prisons in Los Angeles have installed technology that prevents prisoners from using cell phones, because prisoners smuggle cell phones into their cells to further participate in criminal activity. Companies like AT&T have begun developing an app that parents can install on their children’s phones in order to track whether or not their kids are using cell phones while driving. If so, the app allows parents to track the speed of the car and potentially disable the phone.
While the issue of prisoners’ rights to communication with the outside world may be a separate question, it should serve to prove that both the government and private corporations have already shown time and time again that they have no issue interfering with free speech. They are perfectly content to place the control of communication not in the hands of those who use it, but in the hands of an outside, paternal figure. Far from being a benevolent attempt to guard us from ourselves, this is nothing more than a blatant attempt to hamper free speech and protect the personal interests of whichever government agency or private corporation is in question.
What Would This Technology Mean For Citizens?
Think of all the potential for this technology to be used improperly, causing not only inconvenience but death. Should the phone company disable the phone of drivers, how will that driver dial 911 in the case of a car accident, health emergency, or crime? Would this disable phones that are installed in hands-free communication systems?
Those are just a few examples of the possible applications of this technology. However, there are far, far more troubling applications of this technology, especially overseas. In countries that currently suffer under tyrannical rule, the government could force Apple and other phone companies to shut down the cell service and operation of protestors, rebel forces, and even the general population, to prevent collusion against the government. These companies would be complicit in genocide and tyranny, depriving populations across the globe of the ability to communicate with each other.
Even in the United States, there are shockingly disturbing applications. Articles in favor of the technology note that the government could force Apple and other phone companies to shut cell service down on a plane, to ensure that cell phones are in “airplane mode” and do not interfere with the radio frequencies of the plane. It sounds like a good idea at first, but should the government have had this ability in 2001, our citizens would have been unable to call authorities and loved ones from Flight 93, giving us tremendous insight into the hijackings on September 11.
There are also abundant privacy issues with government attempts to track cell phone use alone. Police departments across the country currently track cell phones of suspects by turning on or intercepting the GPS signal. Should the government have the ability to shut down cell service in entire areas? Information from Apple and other scientists currently working on this technology indicate that Apple would not be able to make this decision unilaterally: it would be upon instruction from the government or a corporation owning a certain access point. This would place this power unilaterally in the hands of the government, with no constitutional check on the ability of the government to shut down an entire method of communication between individuals.
We have, as citizens, the right to free speech. Access to that right presumes that we have the ability to communicate with each other at all times. Should the government be allowed to control when and how often we use our cell phones, the outcome is more than likely that for a time, we would be entirely cut off, until we could develop ways around this blocking technology. While it is unlikely that the government would routinely shut down wide swaths of cell service, it would become a distinct possibility. The very real threat would be a daily infringement upon our rights to free speech—indeed, to speech at all.
©2013 Off the Grid News