Tell Apple to Respect Civil Liberties

Target: Apple CEO Tim Cook

Goal: Don’t include “kill switch” device that would allow iPhones to be remotely disabled by third parties

Technology and social networking have been playing an increasingly important role in the spread of news and knowledge over the last few years. In fact, social networking played a pivotal role in events such as the Arab Spring, the Occupy Wall Street movement, in reporting crimes, and in instances of police brutality. Participants are now able to immediately disseminate information, pictures, and videos, as they can easily access social networking websites via their smartphones.

The footage that people have been able to shoot has provided crucial evidence in crimes. However, Apple, one of the world’s largest smartphone manufacturers, recently obtained a patent that would allow them to remotely disable smartphones, much to the dismay of civil rights activists. Apple asserts that this technology would be primarily used to prevent copyright theft and to stop phones from being used in criminal acts. However, the “kill switch,” as it is being called, could also be used to deactivate users’ phones during protests or to aid covert government and police actions.

This is a serious threat to civil rights. Apple could easily disable users’ phones during a demonstration in which police may be present, preventing them from having any objective proof of the police committing crimes or abuses. Additionally, the technology would not be controlled by Apple, but by businesses and government bodies.

This technology could effectively eliminate any police accountability. Law enforcement officers could wade into a crowd of people and act in an abusive manner and in the end there would be no hard evidence against them. Apple’s development of this technology is a violation of people’s civil liberties; people have the right to access social networking and communicate freely, especially during potentially violent situations (such as protests). Demand that Apple respect our civil liberties and not add the kill switch to phones.


Dear Mr. Cook,

Apple’s products are some of the most widespread and popular on the planet. Your products are ubiquitous in the United States and throughout the world. On any street corner you can see numerous people using your smartphones to perform myriad tasks, to access social networks, surf the web, send emails, take photos, and record video.

The abilities to so easily spread information and to capture photo and video proved invaluable amidst the recent turbulence surrounding the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street movements, among other things. Photos and videos that people took on their phones allowed people to stay updated and provided solid evidence in cases of police brutality and other crimes. In that light it is quite unsettling that you recently took out a patent that would allow Apple to remotely shut down smartphones.

You have claimed that this is a means to guard against copyright infringement and intellectual theft: something that could be used at movie theaters for instance, or to stop other criminal acts. However, there are problems with this idea. Firstly, you would not control the technology but would turn the power over to private bodies. Secondly, the fact that phones could be totally blacked out during events like protests is extremely dangerous.

The fact that law enforcement officers were monitored helped to reduce instances of abuse and to bring criminal cases to justice. You have said that this issue is a security matter. It is also a violation of civil rights. By restricting user access to social networking and other services ,you are restricting the entire world’s access to information—a decidedly undemocratic ideal. Keep information open: do not enable this smartphone kill switch.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: bfishadow via flickr

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One Comment

  1. A violation of our constitution, free press and free speech.

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