Apple has patented a method for iPhone users to secretly phone the police when it isn’t safe to physically make the call.
In the future, iPhones may be able to recognise a sequence of fingerprints as a covert command to call the emergency services.
The patent gives Apple the exclusive rights to allow iPhone users to make a 999 call when they may not be able to take out their phone – such as if they are being threatened by terrorists or were in a hostage situation.
“The user may program the electronic device to recognise input entered with a particular sequence of fingers, such as pinky-ring-pinky, as a command to make an emergency call,” according to the patent.
This could be done in the person’s pocket, unknown to the attacker, and may allow the user to alert the police to the caller’s location using GPS.
The feature is similar to the Apple Watch’s SOS, which allows users to make an emergency call at the press of a button.
Unlike the watch feature, however, the patented fingerprint dialling operation may also allow the authorities access to receive live video and audio from the iPhone, although at the moment most police services don’t have the ability to receive this material.
A different sequence of fingerprints could be able to set the phone to delete sensitive information, which could protect people if they fear that their phone might be stolen.
Just because Apple has patented the technology however, its appearance on iPhones soon isn’t clear.
As software, the feature could be included within a downloadable update rather than being held back for the new release of its mobile operating system iOS: iOS 11, which was announced earlier this year and will launch in the Autumn.