Technical Foundation

As indicated, work on panic button features has been undertaken previously, in both State Department DRL funded projects, and related Internet Freedom projects funded by the Broadcasting Board of Governors. There have also been initial concepts and prototypes led by a team at Amnesty International, and a variety of commercial implementations, as well. The output and outcomes of these previous efforts will inform and underly our new round of work. The primary difference being that the scope of the Panic Feature is more focused, targeted at app developers, and aiming beyond implementing just a single application.

In addition to these software efforts, there are a number of commercial hardware capabilities that will be investigated, as components of panic solutions. The first is related to the use of GPS not as a single location tracking mechanism, but through the concept of GeoFencing - the definition of geographic boundaries, that can trick different events to occur on a smartphone. This would enable specific safe or panic zones to be defined, and to have different panic features activated based on moving in and out of these zones. Another new possibility, is the use of paired low-cost wearable hardware, such as a FitBit or NFC tag, that can be used to activate a panic mode, if the smartphone is separated from the wearable hardware. These new concepts specifically address the ability to passively activate panic features, instead of having the user required to be in control of their device.

Foundation Components

  • InTheClear: existing open-source project with code available for Android, Blackberry and Java phones; supports third-party data app wiping, external storage overwrite/shred and SMS location beaconing
  • BigBuffalo Project: secure news reader (“Paik” or Courier)
  • GeoFencing APIs: New features of mobile operating systems, allow for predefined location boundaries to trigger specific capabilities in applications
  • NFC Tags and Bluetooth Wearables: The commercial market is full of wearable technology focused on fitness tracking and ambient self quantification. Some of these devices can be used to trigger panic features.

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