Friday, June 19, 2009

The good, the bad, the ugly of cell-phone networking

With each new technological advance, society gains but also often loses.

Harnessing the atom led to humankind's ghastly World War II bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and continued threats from rogue nuclear military nations. However, nuclear propulsion, nuclear electrical power and nuclear medicine have been peaceful benefits.

The cell phone now has taken its place in high-tech history as a lifesaver, as a curse and as a weapon of revolution.

Were it not for the incredibly small but efficient cameras in cell phones and their texting capabilities, the world would have no inkling of the magnitude of protests drawing hundreds of thousands of Iranians into the streets of Tehran and other cities. Iranian government TV is carrying nothing but art shows and other video in hopes the world will believe all is calm.

Cell phone messages, social-network Web sites and their ability to provide pictures to the outside world could literally change the Iranian government.

Lifesaving has been a certainty for cell phone use since their introduction. Calls to 911 and other emergency services from the scenes of traffic accidents, crimes, airplane crashes and natural disasters have affected untold lives.

Police have even rescued kidnap victims held hostage in car trunks as the result of a surreptitious phone call from victims using the little hand-held phone.

Cell phone pictures, voice conversations and texting have drawn the attention of government wire-tappers trolling for terrorists. However, in the course of national security sweeps, government agents have spied on text and voice messages of wholly innocent cell users, stirring charges in Congress of illegal wiretaps.

In recent months, cell phone images also have led to criminal charges of teenagers who are accused of transmitting pornographic photos. Inattentive drivers using cell phones also are a menace.

Adult predators have used cell-phone networking trying to lure young people into sexual liaisons.

Perhaps the most lethal of all uses of the cell phone has been applied by terrorists abroad—as trigger devices for bombs.

These deadly cell phones are showing up in bombs mostly in Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Egypt. The mechanism is simple. A cell phone is attached as a trigger to a bomb that's placed under a vehicle or where crowds gather. Nearby, an operator with another cell phone dials the number of the implanted phone, instantly detonating the explosive.

Out of all this comes the obvious: Only human beings will determine whether this technology does more good than evil.

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