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Ear to the Ground

Activist App: ‘Panic Button’ for Cellphones

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Posted on Mar 26, 2011
iPhone
Courtesy of Apple

A new “panic button” cellphone application is being promoted by the U.S. State Department for pro-democracy activists, especially those in the Arab world and China, that wipes out the phone’s contacts and alerts fellow activists.

One may wonder how much the State Department will be promoting the technology within our own borders. —JCL

Reuters:

Some day soon, when pro-democracy campaigners have their cellphones confiscated by police, they’ll be able to hit the “panic button”—a special app that will both wipe out the phone’s address book and emit emergency alerts to other activists.

The panic button is one of the new technologies the U.S. State Department is promoting to equip pro-democracy activists in countries ranging from the Middle East to China with the tools to fight back against repressive governments.

“We’ve been trying to keep below the radar on this, because a lot of the people we are working with are operating in very sensitive environments,” said Michael Posner, assistant U.S. secretary of state for human rights and labor.

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By adspedia, March 30, 2011 at 6:09 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

And for the times when you are out there and in need to report your position and local time, in case of emergency, try the Red Panic Button app: http://www.redpanicbutton.com

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Samson's avatar

By Samson, March 28, 2011 at 11:33 am Link to this comment

The ‘alert’ sounds stinky as all get out.  At least
from the point of view of those who monitor and trace
all communications records, like in the US and UK.

Watch your favorite tv cop show.  The first thing
they’d do is pull the cell phones calling and texting
records from their collaborators at the telecoms (who
get immunity if they break the law) and see who
you’ve texted and called.  If you use such an ‘alert’
facility, you most likely are just lying down a trail
for the government to follow to see just who are your
‘fellow activists’.

On the other hand, an app to quickly delete all
calling histories and favorite lists is a very good
idea.  Courts have ruled the US police can grab your
cell phone and search it on the flimsiest of
pretenses.  And US customs has ruled that they can
seize all of this info if you dare to try to cross
the US borders.

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By TDoff, March 27, 2011 at 1:35 pm Link to this comment

The DHS, NSA, FBI and CIA lobbyists are fighting hard to make it illegal for cell phones sold in the US to provide a panic button for pro-democracy activists here in the US of A, claiming ‘It will make our efforts to eliminate dissent much more difficult’.

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By A. Benway, March 27, 2011 at 11:55 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“never put anything in writing” - was that Malcolm that said that?

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By gerard, March 26, 2011 at 8:07 pm Link to this comment

Notice they are being provided to “the Arab world and China”.  I wonder why?  Can’t be to promote democracy or anything dangerous like that!  Hello, Central!

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By No Name, March 26, 2011 at 7:11 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I wonder if they have thought this through:
If a country has sophisticated communications
surveillance, can they not easily monitor who calls
whom, so that “emitting emergency alerts”
just makes it easy to identify that type of message
and who is involved?

Maybe better just to wipe the contact lists and not
send anything. Let others notice by absence of
messages, not by messages that implicate and
identify them.

Unless the app communicates via a secure channel
of some sort, but in a police state, wouldn’t using
such a channel instantly put you on a watch list?

Is total communication privacy possible?

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By Miko, March 26, 2011 at 2:03 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I wouldn’t trust the government not to hide a backdoor
for precisely that reason.  We activists can (and
should) make our own app.

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By gerard, March 26, 2011 at 1:35 pm Link to this comment

Give me one of them things right now!  I want to push “Panic” and instantly go back to Kansas!  Please! —Dorothy

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