Apple patents technology enabling police to prevent iPhones from filming police abuse

Posted on Jul 1, 2016 by Rick Falkvinge

Apple has been awarded a patent for making your camera refuse to record what it’s seeing if it also sees something akin to an infrared strobe light. The intention is to prevent recording concerts, but once the technology exists, it will also be used by authorities who don’t want police violence and abuse of power documented by members of the public.

It's fascinating how some industry players keep eroding the property rights that are not just vital to the economy, but to the notion of running the software we want, in the way we want, on the hardware we own. If it weren't for owning hardware, free software – including cryptography and anonymization – would not work, as Hollywood would own your hardware, something they have tried for decades. We would not have VPNs, we would not have Tor, we would not have strong encryption. We would basically just have pay-as-you-go Disney Channel.

It's this game Apple is playing with its latest invention, which uses something akin to an infrared strobe light – apparently, not unlike the devices that give emergency vehicles green lights at intersections – to prevent a mobile phone from recording what it sees. The idea is to prevent people from recording concerts – from using their own hardware to run the software they want on it, in violation of the Zeroeth Principle of Free Software.

Image from Apple's patent application

However, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that there are a lot of legitimate uses for filming with a mobile camera where the subject does not want to be filmed. Most of them have to do with accountability of some kind. And now, if this technology is implemented, Apple is giving all those people a way to prevent being documented abusing their power – sometimes abusing their power violently.

Journalism, by definition, is publishing something that somebody doesn’t want to be published. Everything else is just PR.

It’s going to take at most three months before Chinese-manufactured belt-clip devices would be available that mimicked this infrared strobery, and therefore shut down any and all cameras seeing them in frame. At this point, police officers who do not want to be filmed by the public – as police unions have argued time and again they don’t want to be filmed – will have a way to override cameras pointed at them, merely by wearing a discreet device on their belt. This is a step twenty years backward in accountability and freedom of information.

As a final note, it is fascinating how the copyright industry always and consistently finds itself arguing for the same ways and means as do dictatorships and tyrannies. The copyright industry argued strongly in favor of European data retention and mass surveillance, in favor of private access to mass surveillance data, in favor of censorship, et cetera – and now, the needs of the copyright industry are used to justify creating something that prevents holding authorities accountable for violent abuse. Why is the copyright industry always, consistently, on the side opposing human liberty and favoring governmental oppression?

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  1. GM2

    This headline is blatant click bait and in no way based on anything factual as far as enabling police to prevent iPhones from being able to record video. And then there’s the fact that this tech has been around for years. If you’re going to report on an issue that could indeed be cause for concern, at least keep it factual and leave FUD out it.

    4 years ago
  2. agFinder

    You don’t own your Apple device. Check the fine print. It’s why I’d never pay a dime for anything they make and have given away free Apple gear I’ve won.

    4 years ago
    1. Vivek Rameses

      What does it say exactly? I wonder if Android is, or will be, the same way in the near future.

      4 years ago
      1. agFinder

        I’m not 100% sure but when ‘jailbreaking’ became a thing they said it not only voids the warranty but is illegal since you’re only leasing the device and aren’t allowed to modify it. Android isn’t a device, it’s software, so technically no – but if you’re in the USA the DMCA is trying to make it illegal to modify any software-driven device; phones, cars, etc., by saying you’re only leasing the software – never owning it.

        4 years ago
        1. Vivek Rameses

          Correct. If the TTP goes through then we’re screwed, in more ways than we can imagine.

          4 years ago