“…when there is a human rights activist on the ground who feels like they are in trouble, they simply press an app on their phone, which automatically encrypts all of the data on their phone, sends out a message to three of their most trusted colleagues/friends/family etc. and automatically sends a trigger to the Amnesty International headquarters in the country that they are in, and then we can GPS track the phone. As the phone has encrypted data on it, if they are going to be arrested, taken to a warehouse, taken to a prison, taken to the middle of the woods, we can find them, we know exactly where they are at all times. So that can really help to save lives…” – Alice Podd, South West Regional Manager for Amnesty International, talking about the app.

The App

Panic Button is used as a secret alarm, to alert an activist’s selected group of contacts and Amnesty International, so that those involved can act fast.

Tanya O’Carrol also spoke of how it was developed and why in an article for Livewire, Amnesty’s global human rights blog.  She stated that social media and the mobile internet have fundamentally changed how we respond to human rights abuses and that almost anyone can be a human rights monitor.  However, as journalists and activists find new ways to give the world information that would otherwise be unknown, governments are investing in sophisticated technologies to monitor and intercept them.

Article on Panic Button’s Development

“Open design is all about imagination. It’s about working with “makers” and “do-ers” to help us think differently about traditional challenges we face in our work. A recent example was #FreedomHack. With feedback from journalists in Mexico, a team of developers created a new ‘Guardian feature’ for Panic Button to broadcast messages should a user not respond to prompts within a given time frame.”  They are also thinking of transmitting a live video recording of what is happening, whilst also shutting down emails and social media accounts and also making the panic feature available on basic handsets, so it does not seem that they are completely finished with this app yet.

Training Kit

In addition to the app, they also offer training for risk assessment purposes and helps the users understand what all the people involved can do.  This is not just to train those who will be using the app, nor is it for those who will be a “PACT member”, it is to train communities-at-risk to be able to fully integrate the app into their work.  It helps to define who are against you, how others may be able to help (including key figures) and be able to assess the risks.

My views:

The app seems like the best solution to a very difficult and troubling problem; it cannot stop someone from being detained, but it can stop real harm befalling them.  It is Amnesty International doing what they do best – using thousands of people’s voices to save lives.

I think that the training is invaluable, as it gives information and knowledge for the PACT members that they may require, but be unable to get until it is too late otherwise.  They will be able to learn how much help they can do and who they know that may be of help (that they may not even consider asking for help from, otherwise), as opposed to trying to to get people they do not know at all to assist.

Panic Button (2014) Training Kit. Available from: https://panicbutton.io/pact/pact.html [Accessed 03 February 2017].

O’Carroll, T. (2013) Inside The Development of Amnesty’s New Panic Button App. Livewire [online] 15 September. Available from: http://protectionline.org/2013/09/15/inside-the-development-of-amnestys-new-panic-button-app/ [Accessed 03 February 2017].