Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Cell phone panic button app sends emergency alerts

In a bid to help pro-democracy campaigners, the US government is developing a cell phone with a 'panic button' app that can wipe out its address book and send emergency alerts. The new technology includes a special application that can be activated if the smart phone is confiscated by security authorities.
The US wants to equip the activists with the new tools to fight back the repressive governments and is targeting countries ranging from the Middle East to China, the Daily Mail reported.

"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," Michael Posner, assistant US secretary of state for human rights and labour, was quoted as saying.

According to the report, the initiative is part of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's push to expand Internet freedoms following the pro-democracy movements in Iran, Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere.

Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter have played a key role in fuelling all those revolutions. The protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square underscored how important cellphones were to modern grassroots political movements, said Posner.

America has budgeted some $50 million since 2008 helping social activists work around government-imposed firewalls and on new strategies to protect their own communications and data from government intrusion.
"We're operating like venture capitalists, giving small grants. We are looking for the most innovative people who are going to tailor their technology and their expertise to the particular community of people we're trying to protect," said Posner.

The US first began to publicly acknowledge Internet technologies in 2009, when it asked Twitter to delay a planned upgrade that would have cut service to Iranians organising mass protests over disputed elections.
Since then it has viewed new media technologies as a key part of its global strategy, facing off with China over censorship of Google results and launching its own Twitter feeds in Arabic, Farsi and Hindi. Some US lawmakers have criticised the department for not doing enough to promote the new technology, but Posner said it was building momentum.

"We're now going full speed ahead to get the money out the door," he said.

The US has also funded the training for some 5,000 activists around the world on the new technologies, the report added.
Source: PTI via NDTV Gadgets

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