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Force phonecam voyeurs to flash, says PI

Barking, repressive, unworkable ideas are clearly catching

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Ordinarily reliable privacy watchdog Privacy International has come up with a weird wheeze that would surely have been appropriate coming from some deranged MP, and/or David Blunkett. Flash, argues Simon Davies of PI, should be compulsory on all new phone cameras in order to "counter the growing problem of intrusive use of mobile phone cameras."

The essential battiness of this notion seems to have escaped PI. Yes, the fact that a lot of new mobile phones are shipping with built in cameras does indeed raise privacy issues, but they're not ones that can be dealt with this way. Digital cameras are small, cheap and unobtrusive, and are just as capable of taking sneaky pictures in changing rooms, so by PI's reasoning they should have compulsory flash as well. Alongside that we have the essential impossibility of outlawing mobile phone cameras that don't have compulsory flash - if you can't outlaw them globally then you're crippling the mobile industry wherever you do outlaw them, and if you do outlaw them you need to figure out how to stop people disabling the flash 'protection' on their phones. (Within minutes of this piece's publication, Reg readers were volunteering gaffer tape as the fix for the fix. So there you go.)

It's kind of like the sort of world the RIAA would like to exist, where your rights to your own hardware are specifically broken to stop you infringing other people's rights, whether you were going to or not. And in the interest of equity it would seem to us logical for Privacy International, if it's going to join the control-freaks, to demand that CCTV cameras flash when they're taking your picture as well. In the UK that'd probably microwave the lot of us within a couple of days.

PI argues, equally unconvincingly, that flash will become a necessity as phone cameras get smaller anyway: "In its newsletter, Nikkei Electronics Asia commented on the inevitability of flash technology in the new technological environment. 'Electronic flashes are necessary to counter the steady deterioration in camera module signal/noise (S/N) ratio caused by the steadily-decreasing pitch.'" This is, we submit, grasping at straws, and ain't necessarily so. Cameras which don't allow you to make adjustments for lighting conditions are not, in our view, cameras anyway, and phones that suck their batteries dry are not the sort of thing likely to endear privacy lobbyists to the general populace.

Sober up people, and when it comes to mobile phone camera snooping, concentrate on stopping our regulators coming up with daft and unworkable schemes; that's their job, not yours. ®

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