Apple just patented a way for anyone to disable the camera on your phone

Today, an article popped up in my Google News feed, with the headline “Apple patented a way to keep people from filming at concerts and movie theaters on their phones“, and to be honest it gave me the chills. At a first glance it doesn’t seem like such a dangerous idea, but just think about it for a seconds.

Giving anyone the ability to remotely disable your camera is a bad idea. A really bad idea. Especially if it can cover an entire venue.

The patent (9,380,225) does give some other uses, such as letting you watch an information video or hear audio about the item you are pointing your camera at, but the “recording disabled” part is the scary one. It works by an infra-red emitted (just like the one in a TV remote) sends out a signal that is decoded by the camera. And even though you might be able to disable the option to receive infra-red data through the camera, it can not be assumed that this also disables the blocking.

Imagine a high-tech mugger building a little battery-powered box sending out the same signal that he keeps on him when he performs his act. If there is a witness around to record it, the little box the mugger is holding might tell the witness phone that recording is blocked. And building that box in the first place would not be rocket science. Or similar contraptions on police officers and TSA agents, preventing recording where you are by law and constitution allowed to record events for the safety and protection of yourself and others. Or even worse, worn by terrorists to prevent them being caught on camera.

Sure — it is a patent ̣– which means Apple now at least to some extent control the implementations, but in reality it will likely end up with whoever pays can play.

Patent 9380225 (PDF)