India: Mobile phones to have mandatory ‘panic button’ from 2017

INDIA’S government has announced that it will make it mandatory for all new mobile phones to feature a “panic button” from January 2017 as a means to ensure women’s safety through technology, said its Communications and Information Minister on Tuesday.

Its minister Ravi Shankar Prasad added that the following year, all new mobile phones will also be required to include a built-in GPS system to help pinpoint users’ location in cases of harassment or distress.

According to Bloomberg, the emergency feature would be activated by pressing a designated key on a smartphone or holding down the numbers ‘5’ or ‘9’ on a basic device, said a statement from the ministry’s Telecommunications department on Monday.


The statement added that this requirement would include popular mobile phone manufacturers such as Apple and Samsung, which would also have to comply.

Tanvi Madan, director of The India Project at Brookings Institution, spoke to NPR, and said that the government’s panic button and GPS pinpointing system plans were part of a larger initiative to upgrade the country’s emergency response system.

Madan did have this to ask though: “What happens after someone sends out a distress signal?”

This is a valid question, given that despite being one of the world’s largest countries in terms of population, India currently has no centralized emergency number like 911, though one – 112 – is set to be introduced in the next few months.

The mobile phone market in India is among the world’s fastest-growing, with around one billion mobile phone owners to date. While its technology is improving, the country’s safety record has become increasingly notorious worldwide, with a reported average of four rapes an hour, as well as one of the world’s lowest police-to-citizen ratios.

In the past, reports of brutal rapes and assaults on women in India have made headlines worldwide, particularly the tragic 2012 gang rape involving a medical student in New Delhi, which shocked the the world and prompted the public to push the Indian government for better safety measures.

The BBC reported that in 2014, the National Crime Records Bureau recorded 337,922 reports of violence against women, including rape, molestation, abduction and cruelty, including 36,000 rapes – a nine percent increase on the previous year’s figures. It is also suggested that the actual numbers of rape cases may actually be much higher than official figures.