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Government Cellphones Security

Smartphone Kill Switch, Consumer Boon Or Way For Government To Brick Your Phone? 299

Posted by samzenpus
from the best-of-both-worlds dept.
MojoKid writes We're often told that having a kill switch in our mobile devices — mostly our smartphones — is a good thing. At a basic level, that's hard to disagree with. If every mobile device had a built-in kill switch, theft would go down — who would waste their time over a device that probably won't work for very long? Here's where the problem lays: It's law enforcement that's pushing so hard for these kill switches. We first learned about this last summer, and this past May, California passed a law that requires smartphone vendors to implement the feature. In practice, if a smartphone has been stolen, or has been somehow compromised, its user or manufacturer would be able to remotely kill off its usability, something that would be reversed once the phone gets back into its rightful owner's hands. However, such functionality should be limited to the device's owner, and no one else. If the owner can disable a phone with nothing but access to a computer or another mobile device, so can Google, Samsung, Microsoft, Nokia or Apple. If the designers of a phone's operating system can brick a phone, guess who else can do the same? Everybody from the NSA to your friendly neighborhood police force, that's who. At most, all they'll need is a convincing argument that they're acting in the interest of "public safety."
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Smartphone Kill Switch, Consumer Boon Or Way For Government To Brick Your Phone?

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  • by rsborg (111459) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @07:19PM (#47716555) Homepage

    Why should THE MAN want to brick your phone, when instead they can just track you - that's what they want - then they can brick *you* as needed.

  • I wonder ... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jcochran (309950) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @07:21PM (#47716567)

    If bricking a phone would also result in any stored photographs going "bye bye".... I can think of quite a few police who would like that feature.

  • by sexconker (1179573) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @07:31PM (#47716633)

    Your sarcasm aside, turn the idea around and convince me there is any situation short of an emergency where the big evil government would use this power even if they had it? Bricking phones would Streisand effect whatever situation they were trying to clamp down on. And, it doesn't necessarily prevent data from being exported off the flash drives. I can't imagine this being useful to any sort of authoritarian power in any regular way. Sure you could probably imagine one scenario where they use something like this to stop a story getting out -- but it wouldn't always work, and they would never get to use it again.... This isn't an illegal search of someone's phone, there is no point in abusing the power to brick someone's phone.

    Conversely there is very real and tangible benefit to crime reduction.

    So, yes, why such paranoia?

    Someone leaks sensitive information to the media. Government tracks phone. Government dispatches goon. Government bricks phone to prevent victim from alerting the medial, recording the incident, calling for help, etc. Victim is disappeared.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @07:38PM (#47716657)

    The ability to brick phones without the consent of the one who possesses the phone inherently indicates that the user does not actually control their phone. Software on phones must be free software so that users can know exactly what the phone is doing, and can modify what it does. Hardware must be fully open.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @07:45PM (#47716707)

    So your situation is something you saw on 24?

    Unless the guy is live streaming 24/7 then your goon can brick the whistleblower's phone with an actual brick.

    Also, look at real whistleblowers and try to explain how the government would have stopped Snowden with this power? Stop imagining spy drama fiction.

  • by mcl630 (1839996) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @07:53PM (#47716751)

    Your Streisand effect theory works for widespeard bricking, or say a large protestors at a large protest. But it doesn't work on the small scale. Imagine if some poor schumck recorded video on his smartphone of that cop in Ferguson shooting that kid. They'd brick the phone immediately, eliminating the video, and only leaving the schumck's word that he had the video.

  • by jklovanc (1603149) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @07:57PM (#47716771)

    The funny thing is that when self organizing takes place and organization is formed. When that organization get complex enough it looks very much like a government.

  • by crioca (1394491) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @08:04PM (#47716811)

    I can't imagine this being useful to any sort of authoritarian power in any regular way.

    I'd say you lack imagination then, because the first thing that came to my mind was "Boy I bet the police in Ferguson would love to be able to disable people's phones right now."

    Used on people en masse it'd be a great way for governments impede and control the flow of information around all sorts of events.

  • by geekoid (135745) <dadinportlandNO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @08:05PM (#47716819) Homepage Journal

    And, or course, the fact that the phone was bricked for no reason. Also, the video will be recoverable.

    I don't think they are talking about putting a button in every police car that bricks phones.

  • by mcl630 (1839996) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @08:29PM (#47716963)

    Doesn't the kill switch also wipe the phone? The existing Android Device Manager and whatever Apple's version is called wipe the phone remotely, to protect personal information from the thief.

    The beat cop doesn't need a "kill switch", he just has to call the station and they can do it or contact whoever does it, quick enough.

    Frankly, I'm more concerned with hackers or script kiddies bricking thousands of phones for lol's, than I am about hypothetical law enforcement abuse of it, but it remains a possibility.

  • by Mister Liberty (769145) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @09:11PM (#47717201)

    Consider what the gov would call 'emergencies'. We may call them protests, even rebellion. Suppose the next banking crisis has come around. Suppose this time things don't evolve so orderly for all those presidential advisors and what have you. Suppose these, those protests, get out of hand -- from the perspective of the gov, mind you. Yes, they would see it as rebellion. Now is the gov gonna want to track you and the rest of your 10,000 protestors? No, they just want to kill any organizational aspects of it asap and thus disperse the lot into chaos. Divide and conquer, on the street level, so to speak. I don't think I have to tell you where your phone came into this picture. Comms, pictures taken, police being filmed, free YouTube placement -- bah!, don't want any of that anymore. The gov want to be able to brick it -- even if temporarily, while at the same time having their own communications channels up and running in spiffy order all the time.
    You can seen where all this fits in, our latter days of class warfare.

  • If the authorities want to stop you from calling, they can already tell the providers to block your IMEI. They can also track you as you move between towers, listen in to your phone calls if they want, and read your SMS messages. But seriously, the providers can already "brick" your phone - otherwise, how do you think they shut off service when you stop paying your bills? How do you think they know to charge you for your long distance calls? And similarly, the police/NSA/CIA/FBI/whomever already has all of those abilities, simply by telling the phone company to give them whatever they want.

    Enabling a kill switch is not really creating a new kill switch... It's simply giving you, the purchaser, the right to tell the phone company to block the IMEI using the same tools that law enforcement does now. It literally costs them nothing to allow, since it already exists, but, as noted in the Summary, will result in a huge drop in the number of re-purchased phones after theft/breakage... phones that are frequently re-purchased at full price, due to the multi-year contract lock-ins. This is all about money, not freedom.

  • by s.petry (762400) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @10:04PM (#47717455)

    The Government did not invent roads. Roads existed long before the Government made them, in fact most towns and cities had roads without a Government mandating and taxing people for using and building them. If you are referring to the Highway programs, those were not Federal Government ideas. Those were citizen and business owner ideas. The program went to the Feds because it was easy at the time, and saved States from having to negotiate connecting points.

    The Government may have expedited some of the process, but we don't know how much because we only implemented one Federal highway program. In other words, it's impossible to measure help or harm from the Federal program. Did it add some benefit, sure, but you can't truthfully claim that it's all because of Government.

    I'm not sure how many photos you have seen from the 1800s, back before the Government handled trash pickup, but I have never seen any that show giant trash piles in every lot. As with roads, trash pickup was happening without Government intervention as well. The Government didn't come up with concepts like "If you drink water with trash in it, it's not good water", we knew that well before a take over by the Government.

    Your last example is the worst. Firefighters used to be all volunteers, and many fire departments still run on a measurable percentage of volunteers. Large cities collect taxes for dedicated people, and people can choose to live there or out in the sticks where they lack the services and don't pay the premiums. Believe it or not, Firefighting has happened in communities for as long as we have had communities without Government intervention.

    In all of your examples, there is not a single case where you can claim that Government is needed. You can in some cases claim it adds benefits, but at the same time it's difficult to measure how much. Road building (construction in general) has, and historically has had, significant levels of political corruption.

    It's impossible to provide hundreds of pages of concept in a post, so I'll recommend you read Stephan Molyneux or listen to his podcasts on anarchism. I don't agree with him on everything, but it's good for the brain to contemplate alternative opinion.

  • by R3d M3rcury (871886) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @10:59PM (#47717679) Journal

    They would, however, be able to keep the story about what's happening in Ferguson, MO (for example) from ever trending on Twitter, simply by killing every phone talking to a particular tower.

    Or by shutting down the tower or by saying, "Phone number (whatever) cannot communicate with this tower."

    And yet, somehow they haven't done this.

  • by Dorianny (1847922) on Thursday August 21, 2014 @12:34AM (#47718025) Journal

    So your situation is something you saw on 24?

    Before Snowden we would have said the same thing about mass government surveillance.

  • by Electricity Likes Me (1098643) on Thursday August 21, 2014 @02:34AM (#47718371)

    And ...what, also delete photos already uploaded elsewhere? Or stop new phones coming in ? Or TV crews? Or does in your scenario the government bricks phones continuously, and yet somehow you think people would just be "ok" with this and it's a function you'd ever be able to use more then exactly once?

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