For the first time, getting connected to the police in emergency situations will be as easy as clicking a “panic button.”
The Indian government has set January 1, 2017 as the date by which all new smartphones in the country must be equipped with a panic button. The same order gives manufacturers only a year longer until all phones must be GPS-enabled. Both features are meant to improve safety across the country and follow the addition of the first country-wide emergency number: “112.”
The law mandates that all phones include a separate button that connects directly to the police. If an additional button is not technologically feasible, then some phones may adjust the power button to connect to authorities if clicked three times in quick succession.
“Technology is solely meant to make human life better, and what better than using it for the security of women,” said Communications and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad during the announcement of the government order.
The new security features address India’s sexual assault problem. Several high profile attacks over the past years have drawn acute attention to the dangers faced by women across the country, and in response the Indian government has boosted punishments and set out about improving an often unresponsive and unaccountable police force.
Uber has had a panic button in its app in India since last year, though users in the United States and other countries have long sought access as well. Most available evidence shows that women in the United States and most Western countries face a higher likelihood of sexual assault than women in India.
It’s also not clear how widespread the benefits of enhanced smartphone security will be in India, as only 123 million Indians currently own smartphones — just about 10 percent of the population. An op-ed today in the Indian Express also speculates that the new features may raise the cost of smartphones, thereby pricing out existing or future customers. In a country the size of India, where as many as 400 million people may buy their first smartphone over the next decade, every penny costs. In this massive experiment, significant success could serve as a model for the rest of the world.