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20 September 20130 Comments by Jon M

Apple goes Big Brother?

Is Apple’s famous 1984 advert being taken too seriously in Cupertino these days? We’re sure you all remember that classic video and at the time Apple used it to claim that they would ensure that the future would not resemble George Orwell’s chilling dystopian vision.

In his keynote speech, Steve Jobs portrayed Apple as the only company to “ensure future freedom”. However, we have seen new Apple patents that would allow covert police or government operations to remotely prevent wireless communication whenever they want and impose blackout conditions. The patent allows government agencies to transmit a special kill signal to all Apple devices in a given area and prevent them from recording videos or taking photographs.

The scary implications of this are not hard to imagine. The rise of the mobile phone has been a great equaliser and has help the public reign in and publicise police brutality. Mobile phone footage has been a fantastic tool for popular protesters during the Arab Spring and in alerting the Western world to atrocities committed in Syria. And who can forget this chilling footage from London of balaclava-wearing police attacking an unarmed bystander causing him to die:

The news about this new patent has led many to fear that authorities could order a blackout during public protests to allow them to get away with police brutality, abuses of power or even cover-up large-scale injustices. Governments would have the final say on when these powers could be used and it has been reported that they only need to claim that a situation is “”sensitive” and that it needs to be “protected from externalities” to flip the killswitch.

Apple have also made statements alluding to the fact that this technology could be used to allow intelligence agencies to cover-up illegal state activity such as the PRISM surveillance programme revealed by Edward Snowden. What would governments be able to get away with if they had control over these powers?

It’s not yet clear whether Apple will implement this intellectual property into its products now what checks and controls will be in place to govern its use. However, it is somewhat alarming that a company who warned consumers about being enslaved by technology is actively promoting ideas like this.

What do you make of this news? Can preventing people from making recordings in public ever be justified? Will Apple introduce this technology soon? If so, how confident are you that its use won’t be abused? Finally, quis custodiet ipsos custodes?


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