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Risks to women spur mobile-phone panic button rule in India

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Mobile phones in India must include a panic- button from the start of next year and satellite-based location technology from 2018, as officials try to make the nation safer for women.

[NEW DELHI] Mobile phones in India must include a panic- button from the start of next year and satellite-based location technology from 2018, as officials try to make the nation safer for women.

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, according to a statement from the telecommunications ministry in New Delhi late Monday. All manufacturers, including companies such as Apple Inc and Samsung Electronics Co, would need to comply.

India is among the fastest-growing smartphone markets and has about one billion mobile-phone users. That's spurred demand for technology-based security assistance in a nation with an average of four rapes an hour and one of the world's lowest police-to-citizen ratios.

"A panic button should be relatively easy to implement," said Neil Shah, research director for devices and ecosystems at Counterpoint Technology Market Research in Mumbai. Adding satellite-based global positioning to cheaper handsets could be harder, but about 90 per cent of the devices shipped by 2018 will probably be smartphones, he said.

The emergency button must be in place by January next year, followed by satellite-based location technology from the start of 2018. When pressed, the panic feature will dial emergency services, though the statement doesn't specify which number. There are already a number of apps available in India that do something similar.

India currently has no centralized 911-type service for emergency calls, though a single, nationwide emergency response number - 112 - is due to be introduced in the next few months.

Reports of attacks on women in India have reverberated around the world, especially a fatal gang rape of a medical student in New Delhi in 2012, increasing pressure on officials to make the country a safer place. Maneka Gandhi, India's minister for women and child development, proposed panic buttons last year.

"Technology is solely meant to make human life better and what better than using it for the security of women," Communications Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said.

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