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BLOG: RIM Targets Thieves, Paparazzi and Stalkers with New Camera-Security Tech

Al Sacco | Jan. 3, 2013
The USPTO this week granted BlackBerry-maker RIM a patent for a new technology that could make it harder for corporate thieves, paparazzi, stalkers and other creeps to take inconspicuous pictures of sensitive information, objects and people.

I've been on vacation for the past two weeks, and while I was gone, a whole bunch of things happened in the World o' BlackBerry. The purported official names of RIM's first two BlackBerry 10 handsets hit the Web: The "Z10" all-touch device; and the "X10" full QWERTY BlackBerry. New images of the BlackBerry X10 handset leaked. And some FCC documents were discovered that suggest a new BlackBerry device will be coming to AT&T with LTE support. (In November, RIM CEO Thorsten Heins said more than 50 wireless carriers were testing BlackBerry 10.)

But one of the most interesting bits of new, BlackBerry-related information, at least from an IT perspective, relates to a patent that was granted to RIM by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) on January 1, 2013. The patent, entitled, "Camera-steady focus requirements for preventing inconspicuous use of cameras on handheld mobile communication devices," is for a new technology that requires users to hold their BlackBerrys steady for a predefined period of time before taking pictures. The idea is that corporate data thieves, stalkers, paparazzi and other Bad Guys won't be able to take quick, sneaky images of their subjects without consent if they have to hold their cameras up for 10 seconds or more before snapping pics.  (Note: The patent is just that, a patent. So this technology may never make it into an actual BlackBerry handheld. But it's an interesting idea that RIM thought was valid enough to patent.)

From the RIM patent:

"As more handheld devices incorporate camera functionalities, organizations and individuals with privacy concerns are more vulnerable to unauthorized disclosure. The camera restriction prevents a user from taking a picture of a subject if the device has not been steadily focused on the subject in question for a predetermined period of time. In short, this process extends the normal camera-taking procedure and thus requires the camera user to take pictures in a conspicuous manner--the rationale being that a camera user would be less likely to take unauthorized pictures if such actions could be easily recognized. The camera restriction can be communicated to the device via a wireless communication network. Additionally, the restrictions and boundaries can be communicated to the device as part of an IT security policy.

"In one embodiment in which the handheld electronic device is linked into an IT network, the network administrator can adjust the device's timer to measure below or above the predetermined time limit--the rationale being that a network administrator should be able to assess the degree of vulnerability affecting his or her organization and establish steady-focus metrics according to the organization's security needs. In another embodiment in which the handheld electronic device is not used within the confines of an IT network, such as by an individual on a public road, the individual would be able to adjust the device's timer to measure above the predetermined time limit. However, the individual would only be able to reduce the time limit to an established lower threshold of approximately five seconds--the rationale being that an individual, such as a stalker or paparazzi, should not be able to lower the time limit for steady focus to a level that encourages inconspicuous photography."


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