Valuable bootlegging blocker…or potential danger to the freedom of speech? That’s the first question that came to my mind when I read about a patent for technology that could deliberately turn off cell phones at certain events.
If you’ve been to a concert in the past few years, you’ve probably noticed people tend to watch the action through the screen of their smartphones. Everyone records the action, whether to share with friends or just to be able to relive later. Some events, however, have strict “no recording” policies that become difficult to enforce in crowds of thousands.
A recent patent from Apple has experts questioning the future of smartphone use at certain events.
While the technology wouldn’t prevent you from recording events, it would stop you from being able to share that information with the rest of the world…at least until you leave the concert and once again have cell access.
Obviously, the primary use of this technology would be to stop cell phone use during certain events. We all know buzzing and ringing phones disrupt our ability to enjoy a good movie or football game. That jerk yelling into his cell during the coming attractions doesn’t make things too pleasant, either. By shutting off communication, owners of movie theaters, stadiums, arenas, and performing arts centers can stop the minority from doing something that spoils the experience for the majority.
It’s not a far-fetched idea.
Hospitals, airplanes, and other facilities use construction to block cell phones from interfering with equipment, but cell phone “jammers” block radio waves and therefore incur the wrath of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Blocking radio waves can actually carry penalties, including fines of up to $112,000 and/or jail time. So…what exactly is Apple hoping to accomplish with this patent?
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 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,” the wording on the patent states, according to ConsumerAffairs.com.
The Federal government has been said to use mobile jammers in the past, in situations that call for it. Since the FCC is a Federal organization, it would stand to reason that allowing any type of mobile jamming would be more likely to be done by the government than some event promoter. But that’s just an assumption. The bottom line is, there are exceptions to every rule (law), and when blocking is being done to fight some kind of criminal activity (such as bootlegging), those exceptions just might be enough to bend the FCC’s rules about blocking radio transmissions.
Then there’s the issue that this patent would only apply to the iPhone.
How fair would it be to block only iPhone owners from being able to annoy our fellow moviegoers and concert audience members? Of course, we all know if Apple emerges with this technology, other cell phone providers will likely soon follow.
One concern being expressed, however, is that once this technology is in place, it could be used to block communication during events like protests.
Covert police government operations may require complete ‘blackout’ conditions,” ConsumerAffairs.com reported that the patent stated. “The wireless transmission of sensitive information to a remote source is one of the examples of a threat to security. This sensitive information could be anything from classified government information to questions or answers to an examination administered in an academic setting.”
While we’re all behind blocking transmissions that could put our nation’s security in jeopardy, how far could this go?
ConsumerAffairs.com points out that during Occupy Wall Street, cell phones were used to transmit protestors being pepper sprayed by police. Conspiracy theorists would, of course, point out that if the ability to block those transmissions existed, the government could have blocked it. Of course, conspiracy theorists also say that the government is watching all of us through our electronic transmissions when all the government really has to do is take a look at our Twitter feeds to find out anything it wants to know about us, including what we had for dinner tonight.
I, for one, am excited about the idea that someday I could get through a two-hour movie without some middle school girl lighting up the theater to check the text message she just got from her boyfriend. Somehow, though, I have a feeling the technology will never quite drill down all the way to my local movie theater. It’s a great idea, though, and if anyone can pull it off, Apple can.