The benefits of being able to call emergency services from any location are obvious. It’s also a benefit for children to be able to call their parents at any time and without the need for change.
The ability to send videos and pictures that is included in all recent mobile phones is also a potential safety benefit. Children can send their parents pictures of the people they associate with which will deter such people from doing anything bad.
There has been a lot of publicity in recent times about the risks of children communicating with pedophiles over the Internet. I believe that the risks in this regard are minimal, children merely need to be supervised while using the net. I think it’s a much bigger problem is that anyone (including pedophiles) can call a child on their mobile phone, and in the case of modern phones they can exchange pictures and movies with the child! There have been many documented cases of this technology being used by teenagers to film gang violence and I believe that the incidence of teenagers making their own pornography (including videos of sexual assault) will only increase (I first wrote this document about four months before such a sexual assault was filmed and sold on DVD in Melbourne ).
Another significant problem is the theft of phones (which often takes the form of violent crime). For their own safety children should not be permitted to carry expensive items that can be sold easily!
Many of these problems can be greatly alleviated with current technology. Firstly transfer of video and pictures needs to be restricted, current phones already have configuration options to restrict which numbers may call the phone. What is needed is to have separate lists of numbers permitted to call the phone and to be called by the phone that are also separated by the type of call (voice call, video call, SMS, and video/picture SMS). A typical configuration for young children might only permit communication with relatives and emergency services. A typical configuration for older children might permit voice and text SMS communication with anyone but only permit video and picture communication with relatives and emergency services. These measures would greatly reduce the ability of pedophiles to communicate with children, and also prevent teenagers from distributing pornography and fight club movies.
Another necessary feature is the ability to restrict access to the Internet and 3G content. This has been requested by many adult customers to prevent accidentally incurring large bills. However phone companies have been refusing to do this, legislation will be required.
Such restrictions of phone use would also significantly reduce the incidence of phone theft. A phone that can only be used to call the parents of it’s owner is useless to a thief!
A new feature that is badly needed is the ability to make video calls to emergency services. In a medical emergency call a lot of time is spent describing the situation and that time could be saved if pictures were available. In the case of a crime in progress a criminal would be deterred if they knew that their picture was being sent directly to the police and stored for use as evidence at their trial.
It would require some moderately expensive new equipment to support emergency video calls and require some training of the people who receive the calls, but I am certain that the benefits outweigh the costs.
Every mobile phone has a unique ID number that it sends to the phone company when it registers. It would be easy for each phone company to keep a database of the ID numbers of all phones it sells and then when a phone is stolen it could be blocked from the network or traced by the police. A similar scheme was tried in the Netherlands where the police sent large numbers of SMS messages to stolen phones.
With a registry of stolen phones shared between all phone companies and a block on the use of stolen phones phone theft would drop dramatically.
Support for video calls to emergency services requires government funding. All the other suggestions I make on this page can be implemented without government involvement. It would be nice if phone companies would address these issues voluntarily, but based on past performance that seems unlikely. We probably need legislation to force them to do the right thing.