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By 30 March 2011 | Categories: news

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With the large number of protests and pro-democracy rallies taking place in the Middle East at the moment, it's no wonder that technologies would start arising to aid protesters in their struggle. Enter the “panic button”, a new mobile phone application developed by the U.S. State Department.

The application has a simple but potentially life saving function, when a protester is about to be arrested he or she can hit the “panic button”, causing the app to erase the phone's address book and emit an emergency signal, alerting other activists in the area, Reuters reports.

The app is part of a string of new technologies developed by the U.S. State Department in order to expand internet freedom and give campaigners the ability to fight back against government oppression.

“We've been trying to keep below the radar on this, because a lot of the people we are working with are operating in very sensitive environments,” said Michael Posner, assistant U.S. Secretary of state for human rights and labour.

Posner said that the United States has helped fund development of around a dozen new circumvention technologies, including secure text messaging services, adding that more would follow.

He added that recent experience in Tunisia and Egypt had underscored the centrality of mobile phones to the success of these political movements. “The world is full of... governments and other authorities who are capable of breaking into that system. A lot of activists don't know what their options are. They don't have access to technology.”

The recent Middle Eastern revolutions also made clear the importance of the internet and social media, especially Facebook and Twitter, in organising successful protests.

Another issue that has to be addressed with this technology is the possibility that criminals and terrorists could use it to evade law enforcement.

“The fact is al Qaeda probably has their own way of gathering some of these technologies,” Posner said. “The goal here is to protect people who are, in a peaceful manner, working for human rights and working to have a more open debate.”

No word on how the 'Panic Button' app is to be distributed or can be obtained yet.  

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