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.