Amnesty International Launches “Panic Button” App For Activists In Danger

June 23, 2014 | Sophie Weiner

Amnesty International has launched their “Panic Button” app, designed to allow activists to quickly alert many people when they are in danger. The app has been in development for over a year, Wired reports. It has recently been launched in Brazil, Sudan and the Philippines.

By quickly tapping your power button or the number “1” five times, the phone will send out a pre-written message to any number of phones, along with the activists’ GPS coordinates. Tanya O’Carrol, Amnesty International’s Technology and Human Rights Officer, spoke about the importance of quick action:

We have long known that the first hours after somebody’s arrest are the crucial window of opportunity for a network to make a difference to their colleague’s release — whether it be flooding the police station with calls, arranging a protest, or mobilising lawyers and organisations like Amnesty International for a campaign of international pressure.

But this app can’t protect from every danger. With our knowledge of the extent of government surveillance of digital communication, it’s a concern that messages like these could be intercepted, which is especially worrying as they contain the user’s location. Another Amnesty spokesperson told Wired they were taking steps to address this issue specifically.

We are painfully aware of the insecurity of telecommunications networks around the world. The mobile networks that allow users to send an SMS are not built to protect privacy or the content of messages. This is true for all calls and SMS communications, including SMS alerts sent by Panic Button.

However, Amnesty believes the benefits of an app like this outweigh the possible dangers.

A similar app SafeTrek was recently created with a panic mechanism. When launched, the app allows you to hold down a touch screen button, and if you remove your finger without entering a pin number in a few seconds, your phone will automatically call 911.

Amnesty are working on adding even more features to the app, including live transmission of video, so anyone’s phone can become a live stream. Follow the Tumblr for further updates.