Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill last month that requires all smartphones sold in California to include a “kill switch.” The purpose of this bill is to enable an owner who loses his/her smart phone to, remotely, make a smartphone worthless to a thief. By flipping a switch remotely, the owner of the phone can “kill” all the data that is on the phone. As one has put it, the phone will become a “brick” and nothing more.
However, the bill also contains a provision that allows the government to flip the kill switch as well. One can only imagine the irony of this technology. As we have become more democratic,, more of an open society, more easily able to communicate with the far reaches of the world,, we now have a provision that will enable our government to shut us down. Can you imagine what would have happened in the Soviet Union had Gorbachev not been able to communicate with the outside world in the 1990s? Can you imagine what would have happened in Ferguson, Missouri had the local citizenry not been able to use their phones, iPads,, twitter accounts and other social media to describe what was happening there? Now, all of a sudden, the state of California is able to close down smartphones that might protest against a given activity.
Although theft of smartphones is a serious issue, curtailing Democratic action is far more serious.. Public protest is an old form of activism. Technology has made such activism more widespread and more easily dispersed. Technology can, should not, be used to curtail active public input.