Jamming Cellphones, Cameras, iPods, Cars

By PatB
Contributing Writer, [GAS]

When I worked at the Department of Homeland Security, I remembered hearing discussions about creating security by denying access to electronics or control systems.  The idea was that in a crowd of people, like in a protest group or political rally, cell phones could be dampened in a region to prevent hostile persons, such as terrorists, from coordinating attacks by using mobiles. This principle could also be used to prevent signals from reaching improvised explosive devices.

With airliners, no-fly zones could be set up around specific ground targets, such as stadiums, and airliners that strayed into the zone would automatically be piloted out.  Such technology didn’t exist, but I’m sure there were contractors trying to peddle their ideas to the Department.

As it turns out, there is a protocol in existence, patented by Microsoft, which can dampen devices that are equipped to listen for such signals.  Microsoft calls it DMP, or “Digital Manners Policy.”  The idea is that people walk into a theater and their cell phones are automatically set on vibrate.  Or a college professor can prevent students from texting each other in class or during exams.  Or a museum can prohibit cameras from taking pictures of their displays.  OnStar already has the ability to kill your engine in the event of vehicle theft.

And while those ideas sound like great applications for the Digital Manners Policy, Bruce Schneier, writing in his column Security Matters on Wired.Com, paints a much darker picture of how this technology can be abused.  He suggests that the police can dampen video cameras to prevent anyone ever again recording a Rodney King beating.  Or perhaps your Media Center computer can no longer record certain television programs.  Or your iPod can no longer share music with systems other than your own.  What if your car is automatically stopped or prevented from entering a highway that is being used for a politician’s motorcade?

The limits to free speech and free press could be deeply impacted by this tool.  Schneier rightly concludes,

“Digital Manners Policies” is a marketing term. Let’s call this what it really is: Selective Device Jamming. It’s not polite, it’s dangerous. It won’t make anyone more secure — or more polite.


6 Responses to Jamming Cellphones, Cameras, iPods, Cars

  1. I was very worried you were going to say this is a good thing.

    Thank you for removing my worry.

    I will never doubt you again, Pat.

    And, um, obviously I agree with you.

  2. I agree with you for the most part. However getting people to shut up at the movies whether by technology or other method is not a bad idea.

    If the users of such technology could be trusted to use it to silence phones in theaters, hospitals, etc it would not be so bad, but this would surely be something used whenever mums the word… it is a bad idea overall.. especially if used by the government.

  3. Implementation of this technology would be another example of short-sighted people favoring policies which they support personally but, turn out to have very undesirable, unintended consequences. Sure everybody wants people to shut the hell up at the movies, but this is overkill. It's not that bad of a problem and when it happens, a smack in the mouth usually takes care of it, and is always applauded by everybody present.

  4. Good Lord. Dangerous? Got your tin foil hat ready I assume. Where is the constitutional right to use a cell phone? If it were up to me public areas would all be dampened and those stupid blue tooth ear pieces would send shocks into the users ear.

    • What does the constitution have to do with emerging technologies and they're very real impact? Also, I will never understand why people such as yourself throw out the "tin foil hat", or "kool-aide" crap. It's as if your brains developed without the ability to independently synthesize information. Somewhat akin to the behaviors of parrots. You know what to say, just not really sure why your saying it.

  5. TJ7,

    I'm right there with you on the bluetooth earpieces. I think its dangerous only in that it will likely introduce more vulnerabilities than solving any societal problems.

    I was searching google images for "cellphone jamming" for a photo to accompany this post and I ran across a person with an old VW bug who outfitted the front bumper as a huge broadcast antenna specifically to drive around town to dampen the cell signals of those annoying drivers who go 10 miles under the speed limit while talking and driving. That was awesome. The Regal Cinema at the corner trying to do it to my phone? Not awesome.

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