By on October 31, 2011

It’s probably a safe bet that at some point in the future, access to mobile communications while driving will be completely regulated throughout the Western world in general… but how will it be done? Using in-car jammers or simply blanketing the signal along roadways causes a variety of thorny potential issues, from interrupting government communications to liability exposure if someone can’t call for help.

Don’t worry, though… in the 21st century, when a government has a will to impose, private industry finds a way.

London’s Guardian reported this weekend that

Britain’s largest police force is operating covert surveillance technology that can masquerade as a mobile phone network, transmitting a signal that allows authorities to shut off phones remotely, intercept communications and gather data about thousands of users in a targeted area.

The system works by impersonating the local phone network and then issuing commands to each handset. The handsets can be directed to shut down or to transmit identifying information. It’s also a safe bet that some phones will accept a request to simply listen and transmit. Yes, your phone is listening all the time, as some Siri users are finding out.

Privacy advocates and the Occupy Wall Street crowd will be furious about this — and rightly so, in this writer’s opinion. This bit of tech, all by itself, could have largely prevented, misdirected, or hobbled the so-called “Arab Spring” which spread over the mobile-phone networks. American drivers should be no less worried, however. Since this system is fundamentally a “man-in-the-middle-attack” on the mobile phone network, it could be used as a firewall between the legitimate network and its users.

Here’s some pseudo-code that, for example, New York could use to enforce its ban on mobile cellphone use while driving:

* Intercept and query phone.
* If the phone is traveling at under 5mph, hand it off to the legitimate network.
* If the phone is traveling at over 5mph, block all non-emergency calls.
* Alternately, if the phone is traveling at over 5mph, divert a percentage of calls to a listening center to determine if the driver is the one calling. If that’s the case, query the phone for identifying information and send a citation.

How do you handle buses and subways? Simple: GPS correlate their position and permit calls from within a small radius of the bus, or use a local signal-grabber to “validate” the outbound calls.

Out here in flyover country, it would be a little more difficult to pull this off, particularly if the average hillbilly can be trained to identify and shoot at the roadside transmitters, but it’s far from impossible.

The countermeasure to this would be to code up a separate box that either offers a separate, more “legitimate” route for local phone users. Alternately, someone could come up with a reasonably high-powered antenna and a Linux box that overwhelms the phone-grabber with millions of half-handshakes and false phone accounts. If anybody out there wants to put together such a project and needs an extra coder, contact me through the links on the right of the screen. In the meantime, when you’re in London, remember that someone may be listening.

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56 Comments on “If You Were Wondering How The Police Were Going To Turn Off The Cellphone In Your Car, Here’s One Answer...”


  • avatar
    BobAsh

    Well, and what about the people using hands-free sets?

    • 0 avatar
      RangerM

      Then they’re probably rich, and in that case the fines they accrue can be attributed to their fair share. (/sarc)

      I’m assuming that such technology would pretty much be the end services like On Star, too?

      Wouldn’t they also have to intercept wireless access points? In a big city, I’d imagine the number of internet hot spots would make needing access to a cellphone signal moot.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      I think the “hands-free” business is a chimera.

      Every study which has been able to “prove” any impact to driving performance from cellphone usage also shows that the act of talking on the phone, not the act of holding a phone, is the problem.

      Bluetooth earpieces won’t be acceptable for long after all non-bluetooth usage is banned.

      • 0 avatar
        mcclurejj

        Are we going to outlaw conversations with passengers, as well.

      • 0 avatar
        hubcap

        Two points.

        1.What about a passenger who’s using a cellphone??

        2. If the “danger” really is the conversation and not the actual act of holding a cellphone does this “danger” translate to having conversations with passengers.

        I’m not a researcher (nor do I play one on TV) but from what I’ve witnessed the act of holding it is very dangerous. The act of holding it to your ear blocks vision and the phone in itself is distracting.

      • 0 avatar
        BobAsh

        In most of Europe, it’s illegal to hold a phone, but legal to use HF devices, be it headset or in-car device… And I would expect the same from US gov’t, when it bans cell phones behind the wheel.

      • 0 avatar

        the danger does not translate to talking with passengers.

        1. it’s easier to drop a conversation with a passenger if the traffic gets dicey, because they aren’t going anywhere, and because they, being in the car with you, will understand

        2. there’s something about being on the phone that takes your attention away from immediate surroundings–to the person on the other end of the line.

      • 0 avatar
        ClutchCarGo

        David’s got it. Someone in the vehicle can see what’s going on in traffic and can read the driver’s body language. They will usually pause the conversation when they see that the driver needs to pay attention to traffic, e.g. merging onto the freeway, while someone on the phone can’t sense these things. This does not, however, apply to two year-olds in the backseat.

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        @mcclurejj: “Are we going to outlaw conversations with passengers, as well.”

        My wife is working on a PHD in psychology, and one of her advisers has studied this issue quite a bit. The data shows that passengers do not distract drivers the same way that cell phone conversations do. The appears to be that the passengers are part of the situation, and so react to it the same way the driver does, and sometimes passengers even help the driver stay alert and point out dangers.

        I haven’t asked her, but I imagine that this doesn’t extend to screaming children in the back seat who aren’t paying attention to the road, but that’s been a widely recognized distraction for the entire time families have traveled by car. I feel safe in claiming that a licensed driver in the right-seat who’s talking with the driver and looking out the window isn’t going cause the same kind of measurable degradation on driving performance as a cell phone conversation.

        Yes, I know you you were going for the Libertarian knee-jerk reaction, and my knee often jerks the same way. But, it doesn’t matter, because the data says “no” to your sort-of-rhetorical question, so a person’s convictions about the proper role of the government in regulating road-safety are irrelevant.

        P.S. In case you were wondering how this data is acquired, they put someone in a car simulator (like a flight simulator, but not as glamorous), and have them drive a car through a simulated environment in which $#!t happens from time to time. Then they have the person talk on their phone (or not) and compare their simulation. They can also allow a subject to drive drunk in the simulator and watch their performance, without putting anyone in any physical danger. These sessions are usually videotaped so that multiple people can check to make sure the log of how many times the subject had or avoided an accident (or whatever) is correct, and also to make sure that ethical standards were adhered to (nobody’s forcing the booze on the subject, the subject is free to leave any time they wish, etc). Human subject research is sensitive stuff, but it could potentially save tens of thousands of lives per year worldwide. My wife talks about the ethical standards a lot, and I will happily participate in any of these studies.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        they put someone in a car simulator (like a flight simulator, but not as glamorous), and have them drive a car through a simulated environment

        But the problem with that simulated environment is that it doesn’t permit drivers to make the choices that they would make in the real world. So the simulation is testing against controls that don’t exist.

        Naturalistic studies show that drivers at a slower pace and make fewer lane changes when on their phones. In contrast, the simulator studies assume that lane and speed behaviors are the same, with only the phone usage as a variable.

        Drivers intuitively know that the phones are distracting. In the real world, they manage the added distraction by taking fewer risks while on the phone. They conversely increase those risks when the distraction isn’t present; take away the phone, and driving behavior will become riskier in other ways.

        Simulator studies can’t replicate the real world when the current methodologies are used. Yes, they show quite nicely that a distracted driver is worse when all things are equal, but they fail to account for the reality that all things aren’t equal as a result of driver choice.

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        @pch101: I’m not so sure that simulators studies can be dismissed that way — the simulator lab I’ve toured is quite good and is open ended enough to allow the driver to drive however they wish.

        However, there are studies where the researchers install an automated camera in the car and let the subject go about their daily life for a couple of months. The researchers then examine the footage later to see if anything happened, but they have to wait for events to happen.

        Comparing data from both types of studies should address the issue you bring up. There certainly is a need for lots of different kinds of techniques in this kind of research. People have done these comparisons, I just haven’t read the papers.

        But we’re getting beyond my actual knowledge of the topic; this is getting to the point where I need to defer to my wife and/or her adviser.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        the simulator lab I’ve toured is quite good and is open ended enough to allow the driver to drive however they wish.

        That isn’t usually the case. On the contrary, the variability is strictly limited because of the methodology used to maintain controls for the study. Because the goal of these phone studies is to test reaction time, the other inputs are necessarily eliminated.

        Take, for example, the well-publicized study that claimed that phone usage was as bad as drunk driving. The test compared driver’s performances based upon their ability to brake to avoid a rear-end collision with a “pace car” ahead of them. If you read the methodology of the report, you will see that this how the test was conducted:

        A freeway road database simulated a 24-mile (38.6-km) multilane interstate with on- and offramps, overpasses, and two- or three-lane traffic in each direction…A pace car, programmed to travel in the right-hand lane, braked intermittently throughout the scenario…

        …Initially both the participant’s car (solid line) and the pace car (long dashed line) were driving at about 62 miles/hr (mph) with a following distance of 40 m (dotted line). At some point in the sequence, the pace car’s brake lights illuminated for 750 ms (short dashed line) and the pace car began to decelerate at a steady rate. As the pace car decelerated, following distance decreased. At a later point in time, the participant responded to the decelerating pace car by pressing the brake pedal.

        http://www.distraction.gov/research/PDF-Files/Comparison-of-CellPhone-Driver-Drunk-Driver.pdf

        The study is testing for reaction time to avoid a rear-end collision. As noted in the quoted section, the speed of the driver using the simulator, the lane chosen, and the following distance are all controlled by the simulator, not by the driver. The driver gets a brake pedal that is used to react to the braking pace car, but the acceleration and cruising speed are controlled by the simulator.

        Now compare that to what a study that allowed for more variability found:

        Results indicated that, when drivers conversed on the cell phone, they made fewer lane changes, had a lower overall mean speed, and a significant increase in travel time in the medium and high density driving conditions. Drivers on the cell phone were also much more likely to remain behind a slower moving lead vehicle than drivers in single-task condition.

        http://www.psych.utah.edu/AppliedCognitionLab/LC.pdf

        Now let’s compare the methodology of the first simulator study to the second, more realistic study:

        -In the first simulator study, the subjects are traveling in one lane, consistently. But when drivers are given the choice, they are more likely to make lane changes when off the phone than when on it.

        -In the first simulator study, all of the subjects are driving at the same speed, whether on or off the phone. But when given the choice, drivers on their phones drive more slowly.

        -In the first simulator study, the interaction between the lead car and the driver is determined strictly by the lead car. But when given the choice, drivers on the phone will choose a slower car as their lead car.

        The first simulator study does a fair job of proving that all things being equal, the reaction time of the phone user will be inferior to the sober driver who is off the phone. But the first simulator study does a poor job of showing what drivers who use their phones do in order to mitigate the risks caused by the greater reaction time.

        Because the phone user swaps one risky behavior (distraction) in exchange for other more conservative behaviors (lower speeds, fewer lane changes, choosing to drive behind cars that are being driven at lower speeds), then one can’t claim that the phone usage necessarily nets out to be worse in the real world. Phone usage results in a combination of both riskier and less risky choices, not just riskier ones.

        The simulator studies similar to the first one are flawed because they fail to account for all of the behavioral changes that accompany phone usage. There isn’t a direct relationship between theoretical reaction time and real-world risk, because there are many driver choices that result in crashes.

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    Perhaps the war on distracted driving is a false-flag op designed to justify the installation of such info grabbing devices?

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      No. Look at the statistics some time.

      There just happens to be alignment here between spooky spy gear and road-safety, in this particular case. In government, alignment and partnerships get things done, though, so you’re right to be nervous about the connection.

  • avatar

    Using cellphone jammers to blanket an area is dangerous because it would affect Emergency calls from people who are pulled over to the side of the road.

    I personally hate the people who text/talk with a phone in their hand while driving – slowing ddown lanes for the rest of us. But, I also know that the government imposing laws to impede cellular use during driving can be counteracted by savvy jailbreakers

    Perhaps the best way is to raise tickets on people the police see using cellphones whilst driving or breaking a traffic rule.

    Say: $400 per ticket?

    How about $500???

    • 0 avatar

      all reasonable

    • 0 avatar
      SimonAlberta

      Yep….as I said in a thread about handicapped parking, the fines should be a deterrent….but the problem then is, most people will comply and overall fines revenue would likely drop….ergo, ain’t gonna happen.

      I think that the level of any fine is calculated more to maximize revenue than actually enforce the law.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        the fines should be a deterrent

        Fines have minimal value as a deterrent. It’s a popular misconception that fines can positively impact behavior, but they largely don’t. People are more concerned about the odds of being caught than the cost that is incurred if they are caught, especially if the odds of being caught are low.

        There is deterrent value in consistent and conspicuous enforcement. But the degree of enforcement required to achieve deterrent value is impossible. There aren’t enough cops or the money to pay for it.

        If the goal is to reduce phone usage, then the reduction has to be voluntary. That would probably require attaching some sort of social stigma to it, similar to what MADD accomplished with drunk driving. Handing out the occasional expensive ticket may make a few people feel good, but it won’t achieve anything.

  • avatar
    Hank

    So, to crack down on distracted driving, all passengers in moving vehicles lose their liberty to exercise their right to free speech via cell phone?

    #fail

  • avatar
    KixStart

    Whoops. I thought I clicked on TheTruthAboutCars.com. I appear to have blundered in to BigGummintsOutToGitMe.com. Sorry. Can somebody point me to the exit?

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      By using the phrase “big government”, and choosing to spell it that way, you seem to be implying that this post is written from some sort of redneck reactionary POV. Is that what you are trying to do? If so, I think you will find out that the desire to communicate without government interference is a desire which crosses party lines, and that the desire to speak freely while on one’s phone is a virtually apolitical stance, held by people who couldn’t tell you the difference between Leon Trotsky and Leon Spinks.

      • 0 avatar
        KixStart

        I am saying, Jack, that there are definitely days when your tinfoil beanie is on just a little too tight.

        The technology to do all sorts of things exists and some technologies can be used to destroy freedom but the technology iteslf is innocent of wrongdoing; it is the human use that may be wrong.

        Further, there’s no proposal to use this here and no reason to think it may be implemented any time soon. There isn’t even any reason to think that the NSA or some other agency can’t do this already and there’s no reason to think they’re operating outside the scope of established law (now, the secret warrant proceedings – those are disturbing but they are, more or less, legal).

        Hijacking a car site to wax paranoically about a recently demo’ed capability to intercept phone calls is ridiculous.

        The link to cell phone use vis-a-vis distracted driving is weak, too. While the drive shouldn’t be on his cell, there’s no reason a passenger should not be and this tech is useless because it can’t discriminate between driver, passenger and someone standing by the side of the road.

      • 0 avatar
        Jack Baruth

        “Further, there’s no proposal to use this here and no reason to think it may be implemented any time soon”

        The source article indicates that the Secret Service already owns one of the systems.

        “Hijacking a car site to wax paranoically about a recently demo’ed capability to intercept phone calls is ridiculous.”

        We already live in a country where the Transportation Secretary has publicly stated a desire to jam cellphone usage on the move. I’m not sure it’s paranoid to talk about jamming cellphone usage after an appointed government official has stated that he wants to do it. I’m trying mightily not to break Godwin’s Law here.

        I want to deliver the best content I can, to you and to every other TTAC reader. If the tone of this article offends, I will work on fixing that so that the content of the message isn’t blunted by the delivery.

      • 0 avatar

        Jack, I want to lend you my full support here. It’s not paranoid if they’re interested in being out to get you in the future :). You expressed this correctly and in my opinion you should not back down on this.

        D

      • 0 avatar
        KixStart

        Uh-huh…

        1. LaHood was shooting his mouth off. Since there’s no way to discriminate between the driver and a passenger, this is DOA. No, there won’t be a listening center to determine if the driver is the one talking.

        2. There doesn’t seem to be any recent talk of jamming on the DOT web site.

        3. However, LaHood recently discussed NY State’s enhanced enforcement, which simply relies on patrol officers, like most other traffic infractions and has, they claim, considerably reduced infractions. The effectiveness of this will reduce their interest in electronic surveillance.

        4. 5K dead is unimportant to you… until it’s your mother, brother or self. Personally, I’d rather not wait for that to occur (see item 3).

        5. The road system is a creation of the state. Whether you like it or not, your fellow citizens may, through their elected representatives, make it as difficult for you to use a cell phone whil you’re driving as they like. Considering the convenience involved, I’m not going to get terribly chuffed about any of this, especially in advance of it happening.

        6. It’s a far more insidious erosion of your rights that due process is either suspended or has become much more expensive in many local jurisdictions. Increasingly, you can fight the ticket… but it’s gonna cost ‘ya… Or an issued ticket amounts to a de facto guilty verdict… Lack of reasonable due process is a much more significant problem than some putative future cell phone jamming program.

        7. The government probably isn’t as interested in monitoring your cell phone usage as your insurance company is. Do you suppose they want to insure distracted drivers?

        8. I spent the first 4/5 of my life sans cell phone. If it stops working while I’m driving, I think I’ll adjust.

    • 0 avatar
      Detroit-Iron

      Are your shackles comfortable?

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    There is a “BigGummintsOuttoGetMe” meme that appears frequently on TTAC. Not that it’s entirely unjustified.

    The 1st amendment issues have not been explored at all in the article. Since I’m not a lawyer, I won’t attempt to decide what the law would or wouldn’t allow. But it might be useful to compare the UK’s privacy and speech rights (if any) to the USA’s.

    I wonder if phone users would decide they can do w/o a phone that can’t be used in a car (if traveling in excess of 5mph)? (No, silly me, that’s ridiculous. How could anyone get through their day w/o 29 calls to their significant other?) We shouldn’t underestimate the power of corporations. If their profits are interfered with, they’ll soon put the govt. in it’s place. Profits would be jeopardized if people stopped using their cell phones.

    I don’t really understand how the “listening center” would determine whether the driver or a passenger were on the phone.

  • avatar
    bryanska

    Doesn’t seem all that hard to download an open-source app that counteracts this. Jailbreak.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      An app could be used to report false GPS readings.

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        They don’t need an app; they’d just triangulate your phone’s location using the same system that drives e911.

        That said, they can’t locate you as precisely as the article posits using that system. Even in urban environs, e911 isn’t that fine; you’d need to read the GPS on the device (not all devices have it, there’s a delay to lock to signal, it requires a view of the sky and can be troubled by the interior or a car and/or window-coating, etc)

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      I don’t think the risk is smartphones, but feature-phones that don’t have much in the way of intelligence and don’t put much in the way of control of the microphone.

      That said even on a featurephone, it would be very, very difficult to root the phone’s OS in such a way as to command the operating system to enable the microphone though the GSM radio. It would be nearly impossible on a smartphone where those functions are very much segregated, never mind that there’s multiple implementations to worry about.

      Imitating a cell tower and getting handsets to associate with it is easy: they’ve done this at DefCon. Actually using that to remote-command a phone and/or turn on a mic? That’s the stuff of a Batman movie.

      Jamming phones will simply not happen. There’s too much risk and liability from jamming, and too much potential revenue in providing services to mobile users.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    Permits exempting the elite from this will of course be available. Count on it.

  • avatar
    DrSandman

    I didn’t know my right to free speech depended on how fast I was going? How did that happen?

    Reckless driving is already against the law. If the police would do their durn job, we wouldn’t have to outlaw every little ticky-tack thing. Too slow in the left lane? Boom! Reckless driving. Wandering in the lane while texting? Boom! Reckless driving. Failing to hit the gas when the light goes green? Boom! Reckless driving. Listening intently to a cell phone conversation while driving responsibly? Fine.

    See how easy that is?

    • 0 avatar
      Type57SC

      This approach of disciplining the bad behavior is much better than trying to parse out some causes with pre-emptive strikes. It could get interesting though if that approach is taken and things like the black box get expanded to tattle on bad drivers without context of surrounding (weaving driver at 2am on a Montana highway is not the same as on the I5 through LA in rush hour or on a suburban street at 5pm.

      I get the concept that in cell conversations the other person isn’t aware of the surroundings and won’t shut up like a passenger will when a Mack truck swerves into your lane. But I can’t imagine that cell conversations are any worse than young kids in the back seat, who also have no respect for the surroundings and can out-annoy any cell phone caller x10. Good luck making driving the tots to pre-school illegal.

  • avatar
    mcs

    I use VOIP services on my cell phone and almost never use the carrier’s voice service. Data only. If they block the data service, then map applications that require the data service to refresh the map wouldn’t work. The data service is also required to transmit GPS data.

  • avatar
    Robstar

    This++.

    It’s trivial to hook up a modern $150 android phone+sip client (vpn optional) and connect to a VOIP provider and use data/encrypted data.

    This is doable NOW with free software.

    If this becomes popular, add 1 year until this is available in a commercial product for $99.99 on arm platform.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      It’s trivial to hook up a modern $150 android phone+sip client (vpn optional) and connect to a VOIP provider and use data/encrypted data.

      Yeah, but in many parts of the world (like, eg, much of North America) data service is spotty at the speeds VoIP requires, jitters brutally and costs a minor fortune. Compare this to base voice services, which pretty much “just work”.

      SIP over the internet (and especially SIP over cellular) works if you don’t particularly care about being able to consistently hear the other party, or have them hear you.

      • 0 avatar
        Robstar

        I use sip constantly @ home w/o issues. I’ve used 3G/4G in a moving car (as a passenger, thanks..) w/o issues.

        Combine the two….

        In other news I’ve gone up to UP michigan with a buddy before and been through parts of the country with no_cell_service_PERIOD.

        I survived. Because it doesn’t/won’t work for some people doesn’t mean solutions like i mentioned won’t pop up if there is a buck to be made. Technology moves on, the law generally moves much slower. Also: voip doesn’t take much bandwidth these days 1KiB/s is plenty if you use the right codec.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    It’s also a safe bet that some phones will accept a request to simply listen and transmit

    This is pure, 100% conjecture, never mind FUD.

    There’s a world of difference between what Siri does, and the network being able to open a voice session with a handset and put the mic in listening mode, never mind the blindingly obvious battery drain.

    I don’t often criticize the masthead, but the last few rounds of stories being posted are giving me the impression that a) you’re spending too much time talking to knee-jerk-paranoia southerners, and/or b) you’re hitting the moonshine.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      This is pure, 100% conjecture, never mind FUD.

      Your 100% estimate is too low.

      In a US context, a monitoring system like this has all sorts of potential Fourth Amendment issues that have nothing to do with cars. That would probably be worth pondering…somewhere else.

      As for selective technologies that seek out mobile phones in certain moving vehicles in order to jam them for safety’s sake but not others, that’s a enormous leap and well beyond anything that the original Guardian article was talking about.

      If Uncle Sam decides that phones can’t be used while driving, then NHTSA will resolve this by requiring the installation of mandatory jammers in cars. If there is anyone in a position of power or influence who is actually calling for such a thing, then write about that.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        The U.S. Commerce Department’s security office warns that “a cellular telephone can be turned into a microphone and transmitter for the purpose of listening to conversations in the vicinity of the phone.

        That’s not very nice.

        But that has nothing to do with using technology to selectively jam phones in moving cars. (My estimate of 0% is probably too high.)

        Of course, there are implications for eavesdropping and wiretapping, ala Echelon, and I’m actually concerned about those. But this is a car blog. This has nothing to do with cars and mobile phone bans while driving.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      “This is pure, 100% conjecture, never mind FUD.

      Your 100% estimate is too low.”

      http://news.cnet.com/2100-1029-6140191.html?tag=untagged

      “The U.S. Commerce Department’s security office warns that “a cellular telephone can be turned into a microphone and transmitter for the purpose of listening to conversations in the vicinity of the phone.” An article in the Financial Times last year said mobile providers can “remotely install a piece of software on to any handset, without the owner’s knowledge, which will activate the microphone even when its owner is not making a call.”

      Nextel and Samsung handsets and the Motorola Razr are especially vulnerable to software downloads that activate their microphones, said James Atkinson, a counter-surveillance consultant who has worked closely with government agencies. “They can be remotely accessed and made to transmit room audio all the time,” he said. “You can do that without having physical access to the phone.”

      Not to mention that listening in on phones has now become semi-trivial:

      http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/07/29/cell_phone_snooping/

      BLIZZZ-AM

      Come on guys, give me some credit. I’m not as dumb as I look. I can read packet data and I know how Diffie-Hellman backpacking works. I also am completely aware of most Android internals and I’ve contributed to Linux drivers. Turning on the microphone in a smartphone should be about the easiest thing to do, and you don’t need to open a voice channel to transmit the results. The data channel will do.

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        Turning on the microphone in a smartphone should be about the easiest thing to do,

        If you have access to the phone. You imply above that this can be done via commands from the cell tower to the GSM radio on the handset.

        That would be akin to my ISP being able to activate my webcam by sending packets that my ethernet driver would creatively interpret and somehow pass to the OS to specifically enable the camera in just such a way that the media stream goes back to a known location.

        That’s worlds different from “installing malware”, even though installing that kind of malware on a phone would require a common platform (eg, it’s different on iOS, BB, Android, Symbian, WP7, etc) and a common API on the device (note that you can’t even get Skype to work on certain Android devices). For the kind of Big Brother scenario above you’d need everyone working on a common platform, assuming you can even get said malware on the phone in question: you’d need to get people to download it first, and deliberately circumvent the security in the handset’s OS to do so in certain cases.

        I don’t think that you don’t know what you talking about, but that there’s more than a little conjecture and creative oversimplification. There are huge logistical issues to pulling off the hack you’re describing above on anything resembling a large enough scale to be effective.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        The U.S. Commerce Department’s security office warns that “a cellular telephone can be turned into a microphone and transmitter for the purpose of listening to conversations in the vicinity of the phone.

        That’s not very nice.

        But that has nothing to do with using technology to selectively jam phones in moving cars for the purposes of enforcing future laws that ban phone usage while driving. (My estimate of 0% is probably too high.)

        Of course, there are implications for eavesdropping and wiretapping, ala Echelon, and I’m actually concerned about those. But this is a car blog. This has nothing to do with cars and mobile phone bans while driving.

      • 0 avatar
        Jack Baruth

        Fair enough.

        I do know that there is a limited command set which can be transmitted to each phone, and that the number of available commands vary from platform to platform.

        After the FBI/OBSD business last year, I’m not certain that all the major phone OSes don’t have such a command buried in there somewhere. Remember the Dennis Ritchie compile-and-compromise attack he demonstrated back in the stone age?

        To the rest of you, I apologize for this temporary diversion into tech dorkery. Tomorrow I’ll go jump my 944 off a ramp of something to make up for it*

        * need something to tow it up to speed.

      • 0 avatar
        KixStart

        And we see by the article that the Feds are getting court orders to do any of that. Time to move on?

        I would suggest that the Federal government, acting within established legal frameworks or even making new law to take into account advances in technology, is not your problem.

  • avatar
    jglucker

    I …….. need a necklace like that.

  • avatar
    Philosophil

    The makers of this technology will no doubt come back with the default reply, “We’re just making the stuff, we’re not forcing anyone to use them.” As if the very act of making them doesn’t already presuppose that they will in fact be used (or else why go through the trouble of producing it in the first place).

  • avatar
    fincar1

    If this technology is available to government agencies, it will also become available to others, whether they are honest people trying to do a job in spite of the government or whether they are crooks who have illegal uses in mind for it.

  • avatar
    campocaceres

    I’ll admit I was starting to get pretty bad about texting on the highway and playing with my phone at stoplights, occasionally turning into “that guy” who holds up the others at a green light because he couldn’t be bothered to pay attention.

    But I’ve since changed cars and now that I have a clutch and gear shifter, the phone has just about disappeared from my consciousness. My limbs and thoughts are kept busy enough that there’s just simply no room left in my cognitive capacity to worry about the last message some schmuck sent my way.

    I know I’m preaching to the choir and there’s a million reasons to lament the rapid endangerment of the “standard” transmission, but this afternoon I feel compelled to wail, yet again. Cell phone snooping, eh? I’d rather just see self driving cars already and be done with it.

  • avatar
    redliner

    So does this mean that the “Gubbmint” will go halfsies with me on that 3$ per minute phone sex operator? (Kidding, sort of.)

    As a motorcyclist, the idea of strapping a portable cell jammer to my motorcycle that kills all calls within a 20 meter radius has crossed my mind. More than once. However, listening in is far, far beyond my (somewhat liberal) limit. If I wanted everyone to know my business, I would buy a billboard.

    How long before some high school drop out, um, ah, I mean phone call interception technician hears sensitive personal financial information and uses it for personal gain. I can see a million ways that this could be abused. Oh, I forgot, all this is for my well being. What’s that? You say I should just trust you? Right. Carry on then.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    I am not worried. The real solution is to ban driving. We will be required to let the car drive itself.


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