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Citizen Power - Part I: using our cell cameras for safety and freedom
David Brin   Aug 25, 2014   Contrary Brin  

If you push long and hard enough for something that is logical and needed, a time may come when it finally happens! At which point – pretty often – you may have no idea whether your efforts made a difference. Perhaps other, influential people saw the same facts and drew similar, logical conclusions!

Here is my own latest example:
 
“Qualcomm and other wireless companies have been working on a new cellular standard—a set of technical procedures that ensures devices can “talk” to one another—that will keep the lines open if the network fails. The Proximity Services, or so-called LTE Direct, standard will be approved by the end of the year.”
 
This technology, which would allow our pocket radios to pass along at-minimum basic text messages, on a peer-to-peer basis (P2P), even when the cell system is down, would seem to be the obvious backup mode that we all might rely upon, in emergencies. Indeed, failure of cell service badly exacerbated the tragedies of Hurricane Katrina and Tsunami Fukushima. I have been hectoring folks about this since 1995, when I started writing The Transparent Society, and in annual speeches/consultations with various agencies and companies, back east, ever since.
 
 Indeed, it was access to communications that enabled New Yorkers to show the incredible citizen resilience that Rebecca Solnit portrays so well in her book A Paradise Made in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster. Communications enabled the brave passengers of flight UA 93 to “win” the War on Terror, the very day that it began.
 
A few years after brainstorming with some engineers at Qualcomm, I learned that company was charging ahead with LTE direct, installing it in their chip sets, whether or not AT&T and Verizon decided to activate it. In emergencies, phones that use it will be able to connect directly with one another over the same frequency as 4G LTE transmissions. Users will be able to call other users or first responders within about 500 meters. If the target is not nearby, the system can relay a message through multiple phones until it reaches its destination.
 
When it is fully operational, the benefits will become apparent. A more robust, resilient and agile civilization will be more ready for anything that might come.
 
Phones and Protest
 
Last year, largely unheralded by media, saw the most important civil liberties decision in thirty years, when the courts and the Obama Administration separately declared it to be “settled law” that citizens have a right to record their interactions with police, in public places. There will be tussles over the details for years, as discussed here. And here.
 
Those tussles could be hazardous! The Electronic Frontier Foundation has published a guide to using cell phones if you are going to a protest or other zone of potentially tense interaction with police.
 
Good, practical advice. I have long urge folks to join EFF as one of their dozen or so "proxy power associations." I do not always agree with them! But that doesn't matter as much as ensuring that they -- and the ACLU, etc -- remain out there and untrammeled.
 
For more on your right and duty to join orgs that give your voice see: Proxy Power...
 
What worries me most?
 
There are moves afoot to require that cell phone manufacturers include "kill switches" so that phones can be remotely turned off. Ostensibly, this aims to enable you to render your stolen phone useless to any thieves, thus securing your private data and eliminating much of the incentive to steal phones, in the first place.  

Behind the scenes, however, are Security Concerns, e.g. that cell phones make excellent remote triggers for terror bombs.  Or that terrorists can use phones to coordinate an attack in real time. In both cases - and some other hypotheticals I am not at liberty to divulge - the State will be better able to serve and protect us, if it can shut down  service in an area....

...and if that does not give you a creepy feeling, there is something wrong with you.  As legitimate as that necessity might seem, it is countered by our own need and right to stay connected, during a crisis, and to use our tools to perform citizen-level accountability!

In fact, it is easy to imagine a negotiated solution... a win-win that could help the Protector Caste without leaving us citizens reduced to impotence, to the level of bleating sheep, bereft of tools exactly when we need them most. I have long pointed out that access to communications was the trait them empowered New Yorkers and the brave volunteers on flight UA93, in contrast to the disastrous consequences of communications breakdown, after Katrina and Fukushima.

 Certainly the cell-phone's camera functions... and the ability to upload images to safety at trusted cloud sites... should be safeguarded from any and all kill switches. (Indeed, these are things you don't mind a thief doing, with your stolen phone!  You might get it back!)

Or else (and I recommend this highly) you should go all retro.  Buy and maintain several cheap, old fashioned digital cameras.  Keep them around.  Just in case.

Forever.
David Brin Ph.D. is a scientist and best-selling author whose future-oriented novels include Earth, The Postman, and Hugo Award winners Startide Rising and The Uplift War. David's newest novel - Existence - is now available, published by Tor Books."



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