Innovation That Matters

Panic button automatically calls contact list with live-stream video


Witness is a mobile app enabling users at risk of police harassment to easily record and broadcast their situation to a configured contact list.

With police brutality cases increasingly receiving its overdue high-profile coverage, we have seen numerous technologies offering assistance for civilians subject to harassment from the law enforcement. An app created by the New York Civil Liberties Union enables users to easily record undue incidences of “stop and frisk”, while another allows users to upload police interaction footages to the American Civil Liberties Union server. Adding to this stream is a mobile app called Witness, which broadcasts users’ location, audio and video to a contact list of friends and loved ones with one touch.

Like its predecessors, Witness records video and audio footage of incidences with a black screen, which was designed to help the user hide the fact that they are recording. But on top of that, it enables users to configure a list of emergency contacts, who would receive a phone call when the user activates the app — done with a touch of a button. The emergency contacts then receive an automated recording, putting them on alert and telling them to look at the incoming text message with a link to the live-streamed, location specified video.

When the user’s cell has low signal or no reception, the app stores everything locally on the device, and will automatically upload it onto the Witness server as soon as it is re-connected. This means that even if the phone was confiscated or destroyed, the footage will remain on the server.

The Witness app is now available on the App Store, and is being used in 220 countries. We recently saw another mobile phone “panic button” for use in health emergencies. What are some other traditional, robust functionalities that can be updated for the digital age?



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