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Employers loosen rules on camera phones

Too many brands to keep track of, a lower security risk than once perceived, prompt IT managers to relax policies

May 19, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Cameras are available on just about every kind of wireless handheld device, from inexpensive cell phones to high-end smart phones, putting pressure on IT managers to reconsider corporate security policies banning cameras.

In 2004, when cameras first became widely available for devices, many companies that purchase devices for their employees dug in their heels and asked their wireless carriers to provide models with no cameras.

Four years later, however, that hard-line approach appears to be softening, at least in the private sector. "Some companies are still avoiding [devices with cameras], but that's a minority," said Gartner Inc. analyst Ken Dulaney in a recent interview. Dulaney works with many Fortune 500 companies on their mobile device purchases and policies.

"Many companies have now relaxed their rules, as most are resigned to the notion that virtually all phones include cameras built-in," added Jack Gold, an analyst at J.Gold Associates LLC.

At one large U.S. corporation that provides BlackBerry wireless devices to 30,000 users, the camera ban was recently lifted for new device purchases. "Even the low-end phones are coming out with Bluetooth and cameras, so we've ended up adding cameras to the mix of devices allowed," said a senior IT manager at the company who asked not to be named because of corporate policies. However, the IT manager said that when the IT shop can disable the camera via management tools over the network, it will do so.

There are network management tools that curtail camera use. Research In Motion Ltd., maker of the BlackBerry, makes models that enable the IT staff to turn off the camera through the BlackBerry Enterprise Server, so an employee can't surreptitiously photograph proprietary information or inappropriate material. Similar photo-blocking is available with Windows Mobile Exchange synchronization functions, the manager noted.

But the manager said there's no similar way to control photos that are taken on some devices and sent over Bluetooth wireless. Because of such loopholes, there are questions about how any organization can control camera usage. "We want to minimize the potential risk, but there's minimal risk anyway, we've decided," the IT manager added.

Most phones today have cameras built in, and if you search for a good-feature phone, you will likely not be able to find one without the camera."
Jack Gold, analyst, J.Gold Associates
Some models of the latest cell phones and smart phones are available without a camera, to satisfy strict business buyers. Verizon Wireless spokeswoman Brenda Raney said some models are sold that don't have a camera, including the BlackBerry 8830 smart phone, out of an inventory of about 30 models from various manufacturers.

"Some companies don't see the camera as an issue, but some still prefer employees not have them in phones," Raney said. Some industries, and many government agencies, have tougher standards than others, she noted.

Gold, who advises corporations on wireless use, said he used to t



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