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Apple patent application published for one-touch ‘panic mode’ on iPhone to protect data or alert emergency services


The USPTO has today published a patent application by Apple to allow a specific fingerprint to activate a ‘panic mode’ on an iPhone, designed for use when the owner feels threatened, is in danger or is being forced to unlock their phone.

In its most basic form, placing a specific finger on the Touch ID button would place the iPhone into a special locked-down mode, blocking access to personal data store on the phone – perhaps simulating a brand new phone. In that way, if a street robber forced you to unlock your phone before handing it over, your data would be safe.

But the patent application goes far beyond this … 

One option described in the patent is for the panic mode to activate the iPhone’s camera and microphone, transmitting video and audio to ’emergency response providers’ who could use the information to decide what action to take – whether it be alerting a family member or friend that you need help, or contacting police, fire service or medical personnel.

Yet another option describes the example of a hiker suffering a fall and activating a panic mode that would call 911 and use the GPS to automatically report the location of the casualty.


The patent includes the possibility of having multiple panic modes, activated by placing different fingers on the Touch ID sensor.

As ever with Apple patents, there’s no way to tell the likelihood of the company actually implementing the idea, but I do think this one has a lot of potential. In particular, the idea of protecting data and capturing video or photos of a thief seems like an excellent complement to Activation Lock. With that additional protection in place, a thief would have to be spectacularly dumb to steal an iPhone.

Check out the full description for more details, and let us know in comments what you think.

Via Business Insider

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  1. Alex (@Lexdexia) - 7 years ago

    A great idea, but what happens when your phone’s battery dies?

    • //jason (@CyberWingman) - 7 years ago

      There is always one! Not sure why talking about your phone dying for this feature is any different than any other feature. Same as in any situation when you need to use your phone, its dead. What do you want it to do?

    • Grayson Mixon - 7 years ago

      Smoke detectors are a great idea, but what happens when the battery dies?

      • o0smoothies0o - 7 years ago

        Smoke detectors are hard wired, and have batteries. So, the power would have to be out, and the batteries would have to be dead. The batteries are a backup incase the power goes out.

      • Guns are good for safety. But what if it ran out of bullets?

    • If it dies BEFORE or AFTER panic mode? There’s a big difference. If it dies before, then you can’t unlock the phone so the first example of protection/security is intact. Not good for 911, but honestly, how many people are walking around with a dead phone in their pockets?

      For after, I don’t see an issue – the phone should still be locked down once it’s recharged.

    • Newton Xu (@iiiNewton) - 7 years ago

      stupid question

  2. 89p13 - 7 years ago

    This may be a solution to the US Court decision that said that a user can be compelled to unlock their phone IF all that is required is a finger touch on the fingerprint reader – but they cannot compel you enter in a password to unlock the device, under the Fifth Amendment.

    Clever workaround from Apple to allow you to “Panic Lock” your phone before someone “compels” you to unlock your phone with the fingerprint reader. As it is now, if you do not want to be “compelled” to unlock your device you have to be able to power it down before being stopped / searched.

    Nicely done, Apple!

    • True, I think it will also help with that UK proposed law: “Sure, Apple can unlock the phone and give access to it, unless the user put it in panic mode” then it doesn’t become a case of Apple refusing to provide access, its the end user making the decision to scramble the phone.

  3. Gregory Wright - 7 years ago

    Maybe this solution, specific use, can be applied to bank transactions on phones with more than one user using touch ID. Banks are concerned with the potential for fraud where sharing of Touch ID.

  4. but how much will it be a month? It’d be nice this was offered for free.

  5. alanaudio - 7 years ago

    I don’t use my index finger for unlocking my devices, so this would be a perfect use for me as nobody would think it odd if I used that finger if under duress.

    • 89p13 - 7 years ago

      Great Idea – Thank You! This solves both the situation of using my index finger to just wake my phone without unlocking it and having it as a security feature.

      Some times the most obvious answers are there if we think outside the box!

    • Paul Andrew Dixon - 7 years ago

      you do realise you can have many fingers registered

      • dcperin - 7 years ago

        Paul, please tell me your comment is a joke? Does everyone with TouchID really use their index finger like Apple advertises with the pictures? No, most people use their thumb. That’s what he’s saying. He’s saying it would work great for him bc he uses his thumb to unlock his phone, SO he could use his index finger for the Panic Mode option… We all know u can have multiple prints. I always do 2 prints for my right thumb bc I’m left handed so it’s more natural to unlock with my right thumb, 1 print for left thumb and the other 2 for each index finger.

  6. AbsarokaSheriff - 7 years ago

    I like this and it seem like it would be implementable on todays phones post iPhone 5s. It’s like having a panic room but for your phone.

    Also having a panic unlock code would serve a similar purpose. Of course, once you are out of danger, you would need a way to restore the phone back to its undisguised, unbricked state.

    For parents there were phones a while back that had two or three numbers plus an emergency number. And there is the SPOT and similar satellite services which are for emergency location.

    It would be great to have the disguised phone dial Homeland Security, NSA and/or the FBI for every number. JK.

  7. usmansaghir - 7 years ago

    Love the idea! Hope Apple use this in next OS or IPhone! I was actually thinking about this the other day. What would you do if you was stopped by a thief and forced to unlock your iPhone?! If Apple are working on this. Let be quick!
    Another great idea would be. Unlock your iPhone with a separate finger in case one of your friends or family member want to use your phone. Keeps all your private messages etc safe from nosey friends and family members.

  8. Graham J - 7 years ago

    They should make it record and transmit images of unrecognized fingerprints.

  9. Yup, this is the Fifth Amendment mode for the US. Absolutely a required feature going forward, IMO. It should be configured with multiple modes as thepatent suggests as there’s no need to call 911 when you just want to lock it down from prying eyes.

  10. I don’t know man theres a lot of spectacularly dumb people out there ;)

  11. mxchan3 - 7 years ago

    wish they include sending gps coordinates to the police so they can track the thief down!

    • mxchan3 - 7 years ago

      When in panic mode, the phone will automatically and unsuspectly sending SOS message + location to the PD

  12. Paul Andrew Dixon - 7 years ago

    I can see this causing many problems due to people ‘accidentally’ doing this :-(

    it is also a shame that we live in a world where we think this is necessary.

  13. Don’t “transmit data to authorities” but transmit to person’s ICoE and/or secure web-based account “in case I’m dead or missing” account. Will transmit/communicate with ‘others’ if I fail to provide a fail-safe “belay that order” within X number of hours or days. Or transmit encrypted package of data and will transmit unlock key if user fails to belay that order within certain amount of time.

  14. lochcolin - 7 years ago

    I’m a 911 operator / police dispatcher and I think this is a horrific idea. Blackberry has a similar emergency-mode and I can’t even begin to tell you how many thousands and thousands (and I am not in any way exaggerating) of false emergency calls this has resulted in. In tens of thousands of emergency calls that I, personally, have taken, I cannot think of a single event where I knew that this emergency mode was used with the intent that it was designed for. Really, 911 is just not that difficult to dial regardless of the emergency event that is taking place. Worst case just tell Siri to dial 911!


Avatar for Ben Lovejoy Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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