The new phone software initiative is aimed at fighting crime, but can also be used on police say so.
In one of those “it’s happening over there but it could works its way here” cases, police in Pakistan are facing intense scrutiny and pressure to reduce the street crime rate, and think they have a solution. Working together with tech manufacturers and mobile carriers, a new software will allow the police to disable the SIM card in any given smartphone, which will then disable the phone entirely.
Essentially, local police jurisdictions have been told they’re getting their walking papers if they don’t do something about rampant street crime. This is the designation given to incidents like pick pocketing, purse snatching, and most of all, cell phone theft. More than 34,000 phones were stolen last year just in the city of Karachi, a statistic that has confidence in the police force at an all time low.
This software will require users to register their phones and insert a SIM card that is linked to their IMEI registered numbers. Once that process is complete, the mobile carrier can shut down the SIM card at the request of the owner. But there’s the rub: they can also shut it down at the request of the police.
This one may best be filed under “programs with the best of intentions but that may come back later to haunt us.” This same concern about abuse of power over technology has been voiced in several other cases involving smartphones. Two recent examples include the software update that takes down the battery life of Samsung Galaxy Note 7 models, and the FBI’s legal battle against Apple when it demanded access to the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone. In both of those cases, opponents criticized the seemingly harmless and even beneficial innovation for their potential abuses of the public’s civil rights. Apple itself stated that it had no interest in developing a backdoor privacy loophole due to the sheer numbers of law enforcement requests it receives every day.
Once the software is ready, the next step will be to get the public to register their devices, a process that may be quite time consuming in its implementation.