During our OpenIDEO Amnesty Challenge, we challenged our global community to come up with ways to use technology to support those held in or at risk of unlawful detention – human rights abuses often imposed in the name of countering terrorism or national security.
Over the three months of the challenge in September 2011, 323 items of inspiration and 168 concepts were submitted – from which 9 winners were announced. IDEO later hosted a spirited Make-a-thon at our London offices and pushed 4 shortlisted Amnesty Challenge concepts to their next iteration. Less than 36 hours later, the Panic Button was born.
Devised as a tool for political activists, Panic Button encrypts a message on their mobile phone which is sent to select individuals in their support network to alert them of their detention. Users can pre-populate the message with the notification of their choice – such as “I’ve been arrested” or “please go home and delete any social media messages that could implicate me”. The function is disguised so that there is no indication that the tool is in use. A geo-location message is also sent every 60 seconds, until the battery dies, providing information on the location of the phone.
In true OpenIDEO style, the development of Panic Button has been all about collaboration and iteration. Evolving from Amy Bonsall's winning Amnesty Challenge PACT concept, it was further prototyped at the IDEO London Make-a-thon and later refined by Amnesty and Thoughtworks. In November 2012, the app was live-tested for usability at the front line in Nairobi with human rights defenders from Syria, Sudan, USA, Kenya and Nigeria. Test launching the app in the field in Nairobi highlighted the needs and priorities of users. Contrary to initial expectations, political activists are somewhat accustomed to operating in situations of high risk and so speed (not security) was the utmost consideration. The tool initially had a lot of extra functionality but through live testing it became very clear that what is key is the ability to react simply and speedily in this stressful situation.
In countries all over the world, governments cite national security or the need to counter terrorism to justify holding people without contact with their families and basic safeguards such as fair trial or access to an independent lawyer or doctor. Relatives may be left not knowing whether their loved ones are alive or dead. Panic Button is intended to serve human rights defenders, their families and wider networks.
Read more from Amnesty about scenarios from on the ground and the development of the Panic Button app. The app will be launched by Amnesty International on the Google Play Market later this this year.
Amnesty International's Owen Pringle presents an impact update at IDEO London: