by Al Sacco

BlackBerry, Corporate Smartphone Digital Cameras: Problems and Solutions

Mar 17, 20083 mins
IT Leadership

The digital cameras built into smartphones like BlackBerrys, Treos or iPhones can be both friend and foe to IT departments and to corporate users. Whether the potential value of such devices justifies their associated risk has much to do with the settings in which the phones – and cameras – are deployed.

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Financial services companies and government organizations may ban smartphones with digital cameras outright, whether the phones are corporate or personal devices. In those environments, employees—both high- and low-level—have constant access to sensitive information. Companies in geographic locales where copyright theft is very common, as it is China, are also more likely to ban digital cameras from the premises.

But smartphone cameras can also be beneficial to businesspeople. They can be employed to snap quick shots of white boards following meetings; to capture sections of documents to save time transcribing them into memos; and even to take images of business cards that can be easily added to address books, among other purposes.

The problem: It takes only a second or two to snap a digital camera image of sensitive information. Then it’s through the door and into the wild just as quickly as the photographer can mosey on out of there. And camera phones just keep getting smaller and smaller and easier to conceal.

Today, many organizations choose to play it safe by simply deploying BlackBerrys or Treos without digital cameras. But in some cases, the staff in those companies could legitimately benefit from the use of devices with image capture capabilities.

Research In Motion (RIM) knows this better than anybody. In early March, the company filed a patent application for a “key” that could be inserted into mobile devices to disable their digital cameras. The patent includes descriptions of keys in the form of a small pins or cards, not unlike tiny, microSD storage cards, and they could have some sort of locking mechanisms to prevent users from tampering with them. Though the patent doesn’t mean RIM will introduce the keys—companies often file patents that never turn into anything tangible—it does suggest that the smartphone maker is investigating new ways to appease companies that are concerned with smartphone cameras in corporate devices.

image of smartphone digital camera lockign Pin from Research in Motion patent application
Image from RIM Patent Application

RIM, along with the majority of leading mobile device manufacturers, has started to include cameras within some of its newer devices—both the BlackBerry Curve and Pearl lines have embedded cameras–but it still offers a line of high-end devices for business users that don’t, such as its 8800 series.

There’s also a software-based method of disabling corporate BlackBerrys that connect to organizations BlackBerry Enterprise Servers (BES), along as those servers are version 4.0.6, v4.1.2, or higher. And forums suggest users of Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 with Service Pack 1, Enterprise Client Access License will be able to disable connected smartphones’ digital cameras.

What do you think? Does your organization deploy smartphones with cameras? If not, why not? Would you consider using a key to disable cameras when necessary?

What are a few more reasons why organizations might want their users to have mobile devices with digital cameras?