Iced by ICE

As I noted in my previous entry, I’ve recently had to replace my mobile phone. Along with the new hardware (a maroon LG Env2), new operating system, new firmware, and new contact-book organization system, I have a new contact category: sticking at the top of the contact list, the words “In Case of Emergency”. The initial input was simple enough: copying an existing contact from my contact book. The names of my contacts, rather than their numbers, show up – and in the body of my contact list, my ICE names are colored red instead of white. Cool beans.

The issue becomes that of the three note fields within the ICE area. To me, this is a reasonable spot to put my allergies, my medical conditions, and my medications. The phone’s user manual, however, suggests I should copy my medical insurance card information there. Given that this phone already wants me to put in full business-card information, I’m not very reassured. Other than my contact list, I don’t like to put anything more personal than my ham radio callsign on my phone – if I lose my phone and if you’re a ham, you’ll recognize the format and look me up in one of several amateur radio online databases; if you’re not, you’ll hopefully call a number and find out from who answered that the phone is mine. It’s that extra legwork that makes me feel ever-so-slightly less concerned about someone stealing my identity from my cellphone.

So… my phone now includes my full name, my home phone number, and two of my e-mail addresses as well as my cellphone number. Lovely. The manual suggests that one keep the phone always locked for security. That’s not practical if one wishes to use one’s cellphone for outbound calls – I can’t unlock the phone “per call”, although I can block all outbound calls, all inbound calls, all outbound messages, and/or all inbound messages. Once I unlock the phone to make any non-ICE call, the phone is unlocked for all calls unless I go back through three levels of menus to re-lock it. In short, locking the phone is impractical at best, and at worst, defeats the purpose of having a cellphone.

A short reminder is appropriate: despite the jaunty ads on TV, identity theft is not limited to credit and banking fraud. It also includes social-security number theft, medical insurance hijacking, and medical records hijacking. Put briefly: putting one’s health insurance information in (what should be, when the phone is locked) read-only notes serves to make that information readily available for fraudulent use by a would-be identity thief. This Is Very Much Not A Good Idea.

Now, I decided to take a look at how ICE works when the phone is locked. Trying to place a call brings up a screen saying that outbound calls are limited to ICE calls. So far, so good. I brought up the ICE menu, which is accessible when the phone is locked. The contacts were all viewable and could not be edited. So far, so secure. I am sorry to say I cannot say as much for the notes. The “Personal Information” area in which one’s ICE notes are stored is completely editable, even when the phone is locked. So… not only would my insurance information be readily available for identity theft, it would also be editable to make me appear to have expired insurance. It also means that any personal information I add can be changed or erased by anyone either accidentally or deliberately – and incorrect, misleading, or dangerous information could be added by anyone (either innocently or maliciously).

I currently have a feedback ticket into Verizon Wireless expressing my concerns; however, based on the lack of firmware upgrades over two years with the RAZR V3m, I’m not holding my breath. (I have also mentioned this oversight in my CNET user review of the phone.)

The true takeaways from this are not to fear ICE or cellphones – rather, they are (1) to maintain secure emergency medical information either on a secured flash drive (or secured application on said drive), or a service such as MedicAlert, and (2) to pay attention to the way emergency information is secured on any mobile device you may be considering purchasing.