A cell phone panic button

I’m sorry to live in a world where this kind of thing is necessary, but I see the point of a cell phone application that sends a distress signal via the power button. Olivia Solon writes in the U.K. edition of the Wired website that Amnesty International has released an open-source “panic button” app for human rights activists.

The Android app — which can be disguised as a calculator on the mobile phone — can send an SMS distress signal to other activists so that they can mobilise action within the first few hours. The secret alarm is designed to protect activists who frequently put themselves at risk to help others, facing arrest, attack, kidnap or torture.

The article goes on to note, however, that it might be unwise to rely on telecommunications technology whose channels could be used to locate activists and their contacts. Amnesty says it considered the matter and concluded that the “possibility of having an SMS alert intercepted was a risk worth taking in exchange for the ability to get word out fast of being physically endangered.”

I can think of somewhat less dire situations in which such an app would prove useful. A cyclist plunges down an embankment, waking up with a concussion and a broken collar bone. A late-night commuter is accosted for his cellphone (whoops, that’s a bug!). An elderly parent falls and, well, you know the rest.

Now, if I could just get my mother to use a cellphone…