Apple's inventors and patent lawyers are amongst the busiest in the world, applying for and receiving scads of patents week in and week out, but one recently awarded patent amongst the flood has recently been singled out for particular criticism. According to privacy buffs, Apple patent 8,254,902 outlines technology that allows the government and others to activate or deactivate specific functions on your phone -- or disable it completely.
As the name implies, the "Apparatus and methods for enforcement of policies upon a wireless device" patent gives network operators a way to control the functions of your phone when certain "events" occur, most of which are tied to your phone's location. All of them have stark privacy implications.
In Apple's examples, theater owners would be able to disable the lights, cameras and ringtones on the phones of moviegoers, while schools would be able to prevent students from using communication functions on campus. The idea of any outside parties controlling your gadget's core functions is chilling enough, but the dark feeling escalates when you consider the censorship powers this puts in the hands of the government.
A line in the lengthy, legalese-filled patent hints at the possibilities: "Covert police or government operations may require complete "blackout" conditions." The patent also discusses disabling phones completely in secured, sensitive areas. In other words, the technology could let the government disable your iPhone at the press of a button.
Hopefully the U.S. government would never resort to such free speech-killing measures, but recent history shows that some governments are all too willing to shut down technological communications in times of crisis. It's also worth noting that Apple may decide not to implement the technology described in the patent, and even if it does, it may include safeguards that keep theater owners and other private entities from meddling with your phone.