We think Panic Button is a tool that can be useful in countries like Sudan where mass arrests and detention of human rights defenders are common and where often families of the victims struggle to know the whereabouts of their loved one.
Participants from the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders network

The Story behind Panic Button

Amnesty developed Panic Button with the aim of turning an activist’s mobile phone into a secret alarm that can help them to get help fast in an emergency. The app encourages peer-to-peer security planning and response.

Panic Button was the product of an open design process that we kicked off with OpenIDEO in early 2012. Since its inception, dozens of activists, volunteer designers, programmers and security experts have helped to develop the concept helping Amnesty to build the first version of the app.

The organisations supporting Panic Button

The Panic Button project is an initiative of Amnesty International in collaboration with key advisors and partners including Front Line Defenders, iilab and the engine room.

Panic Button also belongs to a wider community of advisors and friends. Special thanks go to the network of human rights activists from more than ten countries who have worked with us over the months to collaboratively design the app and have given many hours feeding back on the usability and functionality of the app.

A huge thanks is also owed to the many programmers and designers who have donated their time and skills to develop the app over the past two years. We are especially grateful to the OpenIDEO community for kick-starting the project and to ThoughtWorks who generously helped to develop the first working prototype of the app.

Panic Button was supported with seed funding from the Ford Foundation and was awarded a further £100,000 to build on and pilot the app thanks to the Google Global Impact Challenge.

Panic Button

Panic Button is an SMS alert application for Android that enables human rights defenders and other individuals at risk to get out a message and location information as fast as possible to their network in an emergency.

  • Keywords

  • Program: mobile, threat model, user experience
  • Tech: android, geolocation, continuous integration, acceptance testing
  • Tools: jenkins, maven, calabash, ADT, jekyll
  • Project: jira, github, aha

Recent News about Panic Button

Panic Button: Lessons for the Tech for Good Sector

  • by Jun Matsushita, 03 Sep 2017
  • Blog
  • panic button

This post is by Tanya O’Carroll, Adviser Tech and Human Rights, Amnesty International; Danna Ingleton, Adviser, Human Rights Defenders; and Jun Matsushita, Founder and CEO, iilab.

Making the decision to cease support for the Panic Button app was not an easy one, but it was also not an empty one. We believe that diving into the challenges we faced, and sharing them with our communities is key to building similar – and better – tools in the future. The challenges we faced are interlinked, and by no means specific merely to us.

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Panic Button: Why we are retiring the app

  • by Jun Matsushita, 01 Sep 2017
  • Blog
  • panic button

This post is by Tanya O’Carroll, Adviser Tech and Human Rights, Amnesty International; Danna Ingleton, Adviser, Human Rights Defenders; and Jun Matsushita, Founder and CEO, iilab.

In 2012, Amnesty International, with support from our partners at iilab, The Engine Room and Frontline Defenders, began developing a tool that would provide human rights defenders with an alert system in their pocket: the Panic Button app. Now, we’ve made the decision to cease ongoing support for the app. Here, we share the lessons learned and what it means for the future of developing security tools for human rights activists. .

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Solving the false alert bug in ‘Panic Button’

  • 18 May 2015
  • Engineering
  • amnesty international, panic button

To help solve the issue we tried to take a rigorous approach to modeling the trigger mechanism and the potential events that created false alerts. We took the approach that if we could see the problem and visualise its moving parts, then we could understand it and make better decisions. To complete the picture, we used a simple spreadsheet with a custom function to take a “data-driven” approach to changing the parameters. In a way, it’s a simple but accurate model of several ways that the panic button triggering mechanism works, which allows to explore different options and understand their impact on known “test cases”.

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  • Social Media
  • 15 Jan 2015
  • panic button, labtogether, betterplace

Panic Button @ Labtogether

In this video, Jun Matsushita addresses the role of the Open and Human Centered process that pervaded the Panic Button project since its start in 2011.

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Open and Human Centric technology - Presenting Panic Button at Labtogether

  • by Jun Matsushita, 06 Nov 2014
  • Blog
  • panic button, #labtogether, betterplace

Betterplace Lab invited iilab to present our work with Amnesty International on the Panic Button app at the Lab Together 2014.

The main focus of my presentation was the role of the Open and Human Centered process that pervaded the project since it started in 2011.

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iilab in Wired Uk - App turns power button into panic button for activists at risk

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Panic Button in Tech President

The concern for user safety is evident. Jun Matsushita, Founder and CEO of iilab, writes: The main trade off from a security standpoint is that the ability of the app to alert a user’s trusted contacts rapidly is more relevant/important than the privacy of the user or their contacts.

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New ‘Panic Button’ app provides safety net to human rights activists

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