If You Were Wondering How The Police Were Going To Turn Off The Cellphone In Your Car, Here's One Answer

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth

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.

Jack Baruth
Jack Baruth

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  • Redliner Redliner on Oct 31, 2011

    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.

  • Robert Schwartz Robert Schwartz on Oct 31, 2011

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

  • EBFlex More proof of how much EVs suck. If you have to do this, that means you are trying to substitute what people want...and that's ICE.
  • ChristianWimmer The interior might be well-made, but the design is just hideous in my opinion. It’s to busy and there’s no simplistic harmony visible in it. In fact I feel that the nicest Lexus interior ever could be found in the original LS400 - because it was rather minimalistic, had pleasing lines and didn’t try to hard. It looked just right. All Lexus interiors which came after it just had bizarre styling cues and “tried to hard” if you know what I mean.
  • THX1136 As a couple of folks have mentioned wasn't this an issue with the DeLorean? I seem to recall that it was claimed you could do a 'minor' buff of the surface and it would be good as new. Guess I don't see why it's a big deal if it can be so easily rectified. Won't be any different than getting out and waxing the car every so often - part of ownership, eh.
  • ToolGuy This kind of thing might be interesting in a racing simulator.
  • FreedMike Hmmm, electric powered vibrations. Is this the long rumored move into the...ahem...adult products market?
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