Apple on Tuesday was granted a patent for tech which could be used to covertly call the authorities in an emergency situation. The method, if implemented, could mean that emergency services would be just a secret tap away.
The patent, Biometric Initiated Communication, describes a method of sensing certain “manners” in which a finger could touch an iPhone’s screen, known as a “panic command.” The associated gesture would then automatically and discreetly dial 911.
Such a command could be a gesture, a certain cadence of taps, a particular sequence of finger taps (pinky-ring-pinky, for example), or even a specific level of force applied to the screen. When the panic command is activated, it could send a user’s location to first responders and even broadcast live audio or video from the device to the authorities.
According to the patent, while most phones allow emergency call access from a lock screen, this method of contacting emergency responders is “readily apparent to someone watching.” With the panic command method, a user could secretly call 911 when being compelled to unlock their iPhone by an attacker, for example. In that case, the tech would make it seem like the iPhone owner is simply complying with the attacker’s commands.
We already know how useful a device can be in an emergency if the stories of the Apple Watch’s SOS feature are any indication. The biometric method described in the patent could be particularly helpful in a hostage situation. Just consider the woman who used an online Pizza Hut order to secretly alert the police when being held at knifepoint by her boyfriend. Of course, just like with SOS, Apple must figure out a way to contend with or mitigate accidental triggers. Apple has “presumably” worked out similar problems with purchases made through Touch ID, according to CNBC, though the potential for human error is still there.
The patent was published on July 18 by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office but was first applied for in 2013. Indeed, the patent’s text itself gives away its age, as it mentions headphone jacks — something Apple has away with since the iPhone 7. And, like with all patent applications, there’s no guarantee that the tech will be ever used in a consumer product. But if it does come to fruition, a biometric “panic command” could be a welcome addition to Apple’s life-saving and emergency-oriented features.