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Is an Apple Patent the Death Knell of Mobile Video in Protests? [Updated]

BY Nick Judd | Thursday, June 16 2011

O'Reilly Media's Tim O'Reilly says that a new Apple patent on infra-red technology that could block the use of cellphone cameras could have disastrous implications for activism.

"Think for a moment about the pro-democracy impact of cellphone video combined with online services like YouTube," he writes. "Now consider this devastating story about a new Apple patent application, which would allow public venues to deploy infra-red transmitters that could disable the video camera (and still camera) in cellphones, or otherwise control their operation."

The implication here is that a repressive regime could use such technology as a countermeasure against cellphone cameras at political protests and other public events — rendering useless a tool for advocacy that served an important role this year throughout the Middle East. But Apple just has the patent; O'Reilly hopes it will never see use, though he dings Apple with a suggestion that he'd have more hope if Google had rights to the technology. (Readers: Do you know of any instances of a tech like this being put to use already?)

As researcher Jessica Speer pointed out to O'Reilly on Twitter, and O'Reilly dutifully updated his post to reflect, insurgents and establishments have been in a dance around control of information since before the invention of the printing press — if there is a technology for disabling video cameras, then a technology to protect them is surely on the way.

(With Andrew Seo)