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Are cell phones 'Stalin's dream'? Readers weigh in

Jon Brodkin | March 16, 2011
Stallman is right. Stallman is a crackpot. Reactions to Richard Stallman's warnings on cell phone surveillance.

"This isn't paranoia," Superkuh weighs in on Reddit. "There are established precedents. The power is there and the legislation is in place to use it without oversight in terms of roving wiretaps and national security letters. The abuses of these tools by the FBI are widely documented by the ACLU. Dismissing it offhand as silly or too inconvenient to think about is not very rational."

Stallman asks the public "to take extreme measures against threats which seem both unlikely and dystopian," but he often turns out to be right, says reader Ekidd on Ycombinator, who writes that Stallman foresaw problems with digital rights management. "I've noticed, over the years, that Stallman's most paranoid fears tend to come partially true. So I no longer automatically discount what Stallman says, because his pessimistic predictions have a better track record than my optimistic ones."

A commenter on the Network World site noted that cell phones aren't the only devices to worry about: cars and home appliances include software and powerful computer chips as well.

Stallman is wrong:

After one reader advised turning a phone's GPS off, Wretcheddawn on Reddit wrote "GPS is READ ONLY. They cannot in no way shape or form, get your location from a GPS satellite. There would need to be an application on your phone to transmit the GPS coordinates to them manually over the cell network. If they already have an application running on your phone, surely they can just enable GPS."

A Network World reader chimes in with "I'm grateful that the software development community at large has managed to maintain an arms-length relationship with Stallman and FSF [the Free Software Foundation]," while another says, "Currently there is no incentive for most governments to track the public or individuals. If the time comes, then it's easier to evade surveillance by having a phone but leaving it at home. If you have a registered tracking ID, this raises awareness and actually simplifies the evasion. An inherent advantage that vague conspiracy theories do not provide."

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Stallman is crazy:

"Richard Stallman is kind of a lunatic. He's been tinfoil hat for many years now," Redditor Antiproton says.

Weighing in on Stallman's statement that "I'm not going to carry a surveillance device that can be turned on to eavesdrop," Slashdot commenter Luis_a_espinal says "Legit privacy concerns aside, this sentence reads "silence of the f* lambs!!!"


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