Safe haven from camera phones - in prison?

by Guy Kewney | posted on 11 September 2003

You too can buy a cellphone jammer, according to Iceberg Systems. But, they say, you won't go to jail. That's because it's not a phone jammer. It's a "privacy zone" technology to disable camera phones.

Guy Kewney

<1/> Patrick Snow, inventor of Safe Haven

You may remember reading about a crook who was discovered selling phone jammers - to Scottish hotel operators. It was designed to stop mobile phones working, which forced visitors to use the hotel phone. He went to jail, because jamming cellphones is illegal.

But you may also remember that human resource experts have predicted that camera phones will be outlawed at workplaces, because of the risk of their use as voyeur tools. And, of course, as spying tools!

Iceberg Systems, a company where they don't sell lettuce, is beta-testing a product called Safe Haven. It doesn't require you to jam the phone; just forces the phone to switch off its camera circuitry.

So, how? The good news is, it's entirely legal. The bad news: it's entirely voluntary. For it to work, you have to load the Safe Haven software into the camera phone. Once loaded, the phone will respond to a special signal transmitted in the "no cameras allowed" area, and disable its camera imaging circuitry.

Safe Haven "enables the establishment of wireless privacy zones to prevent the use of mobile phones, incorporating cameras in areas such as corporations, government buildings and public areas where privacy or security could be compromised by the ability to take and send photographic images or video," says the official release.

Endorsement by outside analyst Neil Mawston, of Global Wireless Practice, for Strategy Analytics: "Privacy and security issues surrounding camera phones are a growing concern for consumer and corporate users. Using technology such as 'Safe Haven' to diminish localised privacy and security risks is a proactive option."

The question of whether this will ever be a standard feature of every camera phone is a tricky one. Before the phone makers agreed to do that, there would have to be a pretty universal outcry against the use of cameras, and you'd have to be pretty brave to predict that for this year or next.

It's not immediately obvious how useful it would be, either, if people automatically assumed that the "privacy" signal would protect them, and someone brought a rogue phone in that wasn't disabled. Once out of range of the Safe

Haven signal the portable image/data device automatically re-enables its imaging system. A serious spy would carry a special phone with a switch to ignore this signal, or jam it.

However, Iceberg Systems has heavyweight backing from its partner Sensaura, described as "the world's largest audio intellectual property licensing firm," which is currently in talks regarding implementing the technology with the leading handset manufacturers, blue chip companies and governments around the world.

"Camera-embedded devices like camera phones represent a considerable step forward in technology however at times, they are prone to misuse," said Patrick Snow, Managing Director of Iceberg Systems and the conceiver of Safe Haven.

The technology was developed by Iceberg Systems in the UK, in conjunction with MPC Data (OMAP technology centre – Texas Instruments). Sensaura has been appointed to promote the technology.

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