As a political science major in college, I was more than perplexed when I came across this article claiming that the US State Department was funding the development of special apps to help pro-democracy activists across the globe to organize protests and network with sympathizers. Now with more recent news coming from seemingly reputable sources, it seems like the US government is taking concrete steps to create a "panic button app" allowing political activists to wipe sensitive information from their phone and notify other people in an emergency situation.
Based on rumors making rounds online, it looks like the US State Department is spending generous amounts of money on coming up with a special app meant to help political activists in their fight against dictatorships around the world. The app is supposed to come with a built-in panic button. When activated the app automatically wipes all your contacts, text messages and alerts your friends about your situation. This geared to protect people during arrests or searches by police or military forces loyal to the non-democratic regime. In theory, this should help activits organize more effeciently and evade imprisonment.
As part of its new campaign to promote Internet freedom, the US State Department is using fairly unorthodox methods to promote democracy abroad. Apparently, the people in the State Department seem to think that there is a causal link between events in the Middle East and the use of Twitter and Facebook. Although I personally acknowledge the fact that smartphones are an important tool in obtaining information on the ground, I don't think that new technology can cause entire regimes to come tumbling down.
I'm sure that whatever apps the State Department will manage to develop, Internet-savvy undemocratic rulers in, say, China or Iran will find ways to shut down or censor the flow of information. In fact, these apps could fall into the wrong hands and be used by criminals to delete incriminating evidence.
As a sidenote, I think it's important to note that the State Department chose to develop an app for Android and Nokia phones only while completely ignoring the iPhone. For me this is a clear sign of the US government officials seeing the Android platform as becoming the smartphone OS of choice, especially in the Third World.
Do you think the US government has gone too far? What's the use of having a panic button app? Share your opinions below.
Image Source: Ben Curtis/AP