Recently, Reuters reported that the US State Department is currently working on several different technologies that would help pro-democracy activists in countries all around the world. While the article isn’t meant to focus on just one type of technology, and is written to showcase just how much the United States is invested in using technology to circumvent situations imposed on activists and citizens by governments, a very curious technology is being planned for mobile phones and smartphones for the future: a software-based panic button. And it’s designed to do exactly what you might think a panic button would.
There seems to be some generalized confusion regarding this future technology, and most of it comes in the fact that many don’t want the US State Department to have anything to do with a panic button in a cell phone. Some believe that the State Department would be able to intercept data that’s sent out from those phones, or interfere in some other fashion. And others believe that it’s just one way for a government to get into your phone, at which time they could really do anything they wanted all thanks to that software-based button.
But, that’s not what’s going on here. The United States has been using newer technologies to implement change in other countries for some time now. The difference is the usage is actually being seen around the world now. There’s no hiding the fact that cell phones and smartphones have played a huge role in what’s going on in the Middle East right now, as activists used their devices to rally other activists via services like Twitter and Facebook.
The panic button would be a tool that the individual owner of the smartphone would use, and not the government itself from some remote location, whenever they see fit. And again, this technology is meant for countries around the world, and not specifically here, locally. Of course, the technology, which would allow the owner to wipe their device and send out a warning to other activists that they are being arrested or detained, could very well be installed in devices here in the States. The usage could be changed, or new features added to fit the needs of the American people.
With any “panic button,” the fear of government comes into play. Is a software-based panic button a bad idea? Not on paper, and probably not when it’s implemented in the fashion that the US State Department and its designers intend, but obviously anything is possible and the technology could very well be used in other, more nefarious ways.
Do you think this panic button is a good idea? How do you think this technology could be implemented in the United States? Or do you think this kind of thing is probably left to the drawing board and never actually implemented? And, do you think companies like Google and Apple would allow for these additions to be put into their phones without contention? Let me know in the comments.