Ever experienced that ensuing panic that occurs when you forgot your cell phone somewhere? Even if you haven’t lost it, just forgetting it at home when you’re out for the day leaves you feeling naked, until you and your mobile device are reunited. Some people might think this is a sad fact of modernity, and maybe they’re right. But from a pragmatic standpoint, many of us would agree that our phones are extremely important. Why do we feel this way? Because these days smart phones hold so much of our lives within them.
Our phones contain anything from Solitaire to important emails, calendars, appointments, grocery lists, sentimental (or private adult) photos, to thousands of other applications that keep track of your weight or even how active your sex life is. In other words, today’s cell phones serve as more than a device through which to call or text people. They’re really intuitive, high tech, expensive diaries of our lives.
In the wake of the Arab Spring, the international contagion of Occupy Wall Street, and economic turmoil that has taken the world by storm, smart phones have played an instrumental part in globalizing the voice of protest and effectively shortening the temporal news gap that once existed in journalism.
Phones were an integral part of communicating Egyptian’s unrest during this period, as they have been in many public demonstrations in the past few years. Yet this avenue for communication came under fire when Vodafone (a British based company that owns 40% of Verizon Wireless) claimed that Egypt’s government forced access to communications data that would identify those involved in the protests and ultimately lead to their arrest.
Government regulation over things that concern our private activities always stirs the fire, unless of course it facilitates the spread of Scarlett Johansson in the buff. But as the world changes its avenues of communication at unprecedented rates, so too must our laws and views of how those avenues are governed.
Canada recently experienced similar throes of frustration over user privacy with Vic Toews’ proposed Bill C 30, which was met with less than favourable results for both Toews and the Conservative Party. The paper trail for our activities has changed, and we take for granted just how insecure mobile phones are, and how susceptible our private information may be. I mean, auto correct alone has left me with enough embarrassing text messages to interest the government in what I do in my spare time.
The growing number of people using data on their phones now demands growing networks to keep up with the pace, lest millions be left without service. As our mobile devices become used for more than just talking, we have to expect governments to adapt and push back. Remember the feeling of when Wikipedia shut down in protest of the proposed SOPA legislation? Or even that hot feeling in the back of your head when you’re underground and your phone is out of service? Maybe the one thing worse than forgetting your phone is having such a powerful tool in your hands but knowing you can’t use it. It’s a feeling of helplessness, and with the amount of important information stored on our phones these days, it’s important to remember just how vulnerable these technologies really are. Scarlett found out the hard way.
Codi Hauka is a fifth year International Relations student with a minor in History at the University of British Columbia, and a connoisseur of pies. She aspires to become a journalist, or, failing that, the heir to the Colbert Report. You can follow Codi’s work at The Magpie, a fake news blog she coordinates with an esteemed colleague and friend. The website is in the midst of a facelift, so please forgive its current 1990s level of visual appeal.