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. –U.S. Patent No. 8,254,902
U.S. Patent No. 8,254,902, Apparatus and methods for enforcement of policies upon a wireless device, was recently issued to Apple, Inc, makers of the iPhone and other wireless devices. The patent describes a method for restricting the function of a wireless device upon the occurrence of specific events such as when the device enters a specified area; that is, it will be possible to remotely disable all sounds on patrons’ cell phones at a movie theater or to disable the camera function of a phone when the phone is in a concert venue.
Here’s an example from the patent of a scenario in which such function-disabling devices might be deployed: “a wireless camera hidden in an area or brought in by another individual (e.g., a cellular phone camera) where privacy is normally reasonably expected such as a department store changing room, bathroom or locker room is one example of a significant threat to such privacy…The command instructs the device to enter into a “lockdown” mode. Different facilities may enact different “lockdown” modes. For instance, a locker room facility may issue a command that prevents use of a cellular phone camera or laptop computer camera while in that area, thereby preventing surreptitious imaging of customers/users. Customers of such facilities may be willing to pay extra for the peace of mind associated with knowing that they are not being secretly photographed.”
This specific case seems relatively fine; I don’t want people taking pictures of me in my gym locker room. And there are plenty of legitimate uses for this sort of technology; many device manufacturers produce cell phones without cameras or laptops without webcams for use in high security business or government environments. But we’re living in an era in which photographers are regularly placed under suspicion, accosted, or apprehended by security guards and police and the general public for taking pictures of publicly viewable things from public spaces (we’ve covered this a lot in the past, and Carlos Miller’s Photography Is Not A Crime blog is a good one-stop shop for regular updates on this sort of thing). I can easily imagine shopping malls, amusement parks, concert venues, convention sites, skyscrapers, and other highly controlled areas implementing these technological restrictions on picture taking in order to prevent unauthorized pictures from getting out. Or, in a perversion of the old Kodak Picture Spot or an odd twist to the “Free Speech Zones“, pictures might be allowed only in specific locations that provide the appropriate branding or appearance that the site’s owners wish to impart in tourists’ photos. I never like slippery slope arguments; there’s no telling when, how, or if this technology will ever be used. However, it will be an interesting one to watch.