Does the iPhone need a ‘panic button’?

A new ‘panic mode’ for your iPhone might help keep your data more secure. And with the current legal decisions regarding Touch ID, this iOS feature is now vital.

The iPhone’s Touch ID feature is quick way to our most valuable data. But could this same data ever be used against us? If so, then there might be a reason to panic.

Despite the FBI demands, Apple has sworn to make the iPhone even harder to crack. And this promise could soon be a reality. Apple has filed a patent that would turn TouchID into something like a “panic button.” Just use a specific finger to trigger this panic mode, and your iPhone will lock down certain personal information or wipe the device entirely. The panic mode might also give you more robust security options, like sending your GPS coordinates to the police or automatically calling 911.

Based on the patent, it sounds like panic mode was originally intended to prevent your iPhone from being stolen. But in this day and age of ever-changing privacy protections and the government’s recent fascination with iPhone-hacking, the Panic Button could also serve as a defense mechanism against self-incrimination.

Here’s the deal. A judge in California recently ruled that you can’t plead the Fifth if authorities order you to unlock your iPhone using your fingerprint. But this doesn’t jibe with an earlier ruling that protects people from being forced to reveal their numeric passcode. So in the eyes of the law, your passcode is protected speech but your fingerprint is considered physical evidence -- and thus susceptible to a search warrant. Since TouchID doesn’t have the same Constitutional protections as using a passcode, a Panic Button would protect you against self-incrimination when the law fails to do so. Because here in America, Siri should have the right to remain silent, too.

Now you may be thinking, I don’t have to worry about this because I have nothing to hide. Well, you clearly haven’t seen Making a Murderder, because that’s exactly what Steven Avery said right before he was wrongfully convicted the second time.

And if the cops can force you to unlock your iPhone with your fingerprint, so can the bad guys. And trust me, the bad guys won’t bother obtaining a search warrant. That’s why having a Panic Button on the iPhone is now more important than ever. We can access all our personal data with a tap of a finger, so we should be able to erase all that data just as easily. Whether or not the feds are banging on our doors.