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macrumors bot
Original poster
Apr 12, 2001

One reader tipped us off that the iPhone's emergency call feature can be used to call any phone number and not just designated "emergency" numbers such as 911.

The emergency call feature is available even when your iPhone is passcode locked, and raised this reader's concern that your mobile minutes could be used without your knowledge.

In searching the internet, it appears that this issue has been around since at least firmware 2.0.2, though there appears to be some debate about whether or not it is an intentional feature.

If your iPhone is actually stolen, you will presumably discontinue service and that would prevent ongoing usage of your minutes. But it still leaves opens up the possibility of intermittent unauthorized usage.

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macrumors 6502a
Mar 5, 2006
Southern California
Yeah you're right
just locked my phone right now.. emergency call, called my house it called without a hitch...

hmm this is weird
they fixed the bug were you could technically view the contents of the iPhone
yet now, you can call whoever you want on the emergency call windows...

apple's dropping the ball with all of these updates


macrumors 68040
Jul 1, 2008
Bostonian exiled in SoCal
I think of if as a feature.

I have life-threatening allergies, and I have an emergency contact number (along with the location of my Epi-Pen) on my lock screen.

If someone needs to use my phone while I'm incapacitated, I'm good with that.

Not to mention, emergency numbers aren't always 911 (or the international equivalents), especially in rural areas and places like parks and mountains.

KT Walrus

macrumors member
Jul 10, 2008
Last year, I found an iPhone that was locked and I had no way of contacting the owner to return it. But, then I used the emergency call feature to call my home phone number and the caller ID gave me the number of the iPhone. I called that and left a message and was able to eventually track down the owner and return the phone.

Anyway, this "feature" has been around for at least a year and probably from the beginning.


macrumors 604
Jan 21, 2002
Langley, Washington
I would have thought that they would have preprogrammed the phone with the different primary emergency number for the world. Then Ntombi reminded me that not all emergencies require those number. As a compromise, they should allow for a call list on the phone for emergency contacts, including your ICE number (In Case of Emergency), which should be an automatic button on the emergency call screen.

Also, remember, that if the SIM is removed, you will only be able to call Emergency Numbers for the region.



macrumors 68000
Mar 10, 2003
Not always 911

Emergency call might need to be to a friend or relative.

Odd instructions for my area are as follows...

In emergency dial 911, state:
"I live in City of LA Reporting District XXXX."
Then phone Sheriff directly.


macrumors newbie
Sep 17, 2008
Should I be Concerned?

Just a thought here, I just recently sold my old EDGE Iphone on ebay. ATT Deactivated the SIM and ported my # over to the 3G phone. I also did a wipe of the phone but when it came up it was in the Emergency activate state. I recall that I did put 2.1 firmware on before I shipped it.
Could this be used to still make calls on my account??? I would think once the SIM is deactivated that any calls being made would not go through.


macrumors regular
May 1, 2007
Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
I'd consider it a feature if there was an option to change it somewhere, so Ntombi you'd obviously want to allow outgoing calls whereas I would probably not... If I had an iPhone...


macrumors newbie
Sep 17, 2008
its been like that since 2.0, I was wondering how long it would take somebody important to notice.


macrumors newbie
Sep 17, 2008
emergency call feature

this is not a bug it has been that way since the first iPhone back in 2007. I have had all the upgrades to software since the 1.0 and the emergency feature has always been able to call any number. Like the other guy said if your phone is stolen just call AT&T and let them know.


macrumors 6502
Jun 12, 2005
I found out about this a few months ago when my friend at work called his phone with my iPhone, even though my iPhone was on lock. I thought he was tricking me somehow. Kind of a pointless "lock" :)


macrumors newbie
Nov 29, 2007
There seems to be pros and cons to not having the emergency calling limited to just 911.

I think its a valid point that in difference countries 911 isn't the emergency number, and even here sometimes a friend or relative is an emergency contact.

I think the passcode lock at least still secures all the other data that's on your phone whilst allowing you to freely emergency dial anyone.


Just my .2 :apple:


macrumors 6502a
Jun 23, 2008
California, USA
I don't think it should be limited to just 911. IT'S A PHONE!!! DID SOMEONE FORGET THAT??? If you lock it to protect the privacy of the computer info you have on it, it shouldn't incompacitate the ability of it to be a phone. "Emergency call" means ... "I need to make a call !"
There are numerous situations in which 911 is NOT the most-effective number to call. Perhaps the person in the next room or someone that lives two houses down from you would be more effective than calling 911 and having to wait 15 minutes. Maybe your wife just backed out of the driveway and your kid is handing out the door by his seatbelt - maybe it would be a good idea to call her instead of 911. Maybe your friend is about to walk into a very dangerous situation in 10 seconds - maybe it would be a good idea to call his cell phone instead of 911.

Or ... drum roll please ... you need to call the person who owns the phone, and
ask them what the pass code is. :D


macrumors newbie
Aug 7, 2008
I noticed that you could call anyone with the emergency feature WAYYYY before 2.0 so its an old thing.

I remember I accidentally called my parents house at like 3am because I didnt think it would actually work, but the call went through.


macrumors 68000
Sep 27, 2004
Knoxville, TN (USA)
Wirelessly posted (iPhone: Mozilla/5.0 (iPhone; U; CPU iPhone OS 2_1 like Mac OS X; en-us) AppleWebKit/525.18.1 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/3.1.1 Mobile/5F136 Safari/525.20)

I feel like this is a bug. Anyone could technically call anywhere with this. Of course this is compng from someone who never passcode locks their phone because I figures that if it were stolen I would just turn off service through it but of I were one to passcode lock my phone I would want it to prevent any calls other than emergency numbers.


macrumors G4
Jan 5, 2006
Redondo Beach, California
As a compromise, they should allow for a call list on the phone for emergency contacts, including your ICE number (In Case of Emergency),

Much simpler, zero cost idea: In your contacts list there could be a check-off box that says "allow this number to be called from a locked iPhone. Then a user could put checks by numbers like their own home phone, 911, park rangers and the local volunteer fire department. This would not require any new redesign of existing menus and it is easy to understand. When the phone is locked only those checked contacts would be displayed. For most of us we'd only check-off 911.


macrumors 65816
Jan 5, 2003
Dallas, USA
Vetteandi, no worries. A deactivated SIM is not only deactivated, it's deactivated forever and ever, can never be reactivated (at least by policy and procedure; and even if it's technically possible, the carrier would have to allow it -- and none of them do in the States). In the States, FCC regulations require any phone that has inserted a deactivated or unactivated SIM to be able to make a 911, or emergency call service center, call if it can get a signal. However, that call is billed to no one and the "cost" of that call is born by the network carrier wherever the phone happens to be at the time -- by requirement of FCC. It would never be associated with an old accountholder who owned that phone. In fact, many women's shelters suggest donating old, deactivated cell phones w/ SIMs still installed for use by at-risk women and families, for making emergency calls. Many carriers allow deactivated phones to call 611, too, or the customer service number of the carrier, so perhaps a lost phone can be recovered.

The "slide for emergency call" label you saw the first time you plugged in your EDGE iPhone, before you activated it, is totally different than the "slide for emergency call" you see when an iPhone is pass-code locked. In the former unactivated/deactivated state, you can dial any number you want save 911 and you'll either ATT customer service or nothing, or perhaps emergency. Dial 911 and you'll get the local emergency call service center for the tower to which you're connected. After the phone is activated, and remains activated, different ball game.

Just a thought here, I just recently sold my old EDGE Iphone on ebay. ATT Deactivated the SIM and ported my # over to the 3G phone. I also did a wipe of the phone but when it came up it was in the Emergency activate state. I recall that I did put 2.1 firmware on before I shipped it.
Could this be used to still make calls on my account??? I would think once the SIM is deactivated that any calls being made would not go through.


macrumors G5
May 2, 2002
There's a "secondary lock" that you can implement to stop people from making calls on it. Just don't hand your phone to people you don't trust and then leave them alone with it :p

I've started using that lock method and it hasn't hampered my iPhone experience at all!

I like the idea that people can make emergency calls to numbers I haven't thought IN ADVANCE to allow. That could save my life some day if I'm unconscious.


macrumors 65816
Sep 2, 2006
a gasping dying planet
i'd rate this as a feature. given an emergency, you'd need to call any number of people and it's good you are able to do so. i don't think this constitutes a security risk since they can't activate the phone. and if someone steals it or it is lost for a significant amount of time, the onus should be on the owner to get that phone cancelled.


macrumors 68000
Jul 22, 2007
Utica, NY
I used this feature thinking nothing of it in 1.1.4 - I assumed it was nothing bad. I was just being lazy not wanting to go into my phone and call someone, and just dialed them through the emergency dialer for a quick convo. The only thing was I got nervous thinking I may be charged wrong when bill time rolled around, but nope. :confused: I don't know what to say about that. It's good for lazy people such as myself but that's about it. If anyone gets my phone, even locked, they can make calls? Now that I think about it. Bug; not feature.

Edit: Rereading everything. I'll reconsider with Feature. If I am hit by a bus, I would want my phone to be accessible. I enjoy my life more than a lock on my phone for personal security.


macrumors 68040
Mar 15, 2005
I thought some people mentioned this way back in June 2007 on the night of the iPhone launch?


macrumors regular
Jun 6, 2007
Louisiana, United States
I think the "Allow this number for emergency calls" checkbox idea is the way to go. Maybe have 911 + favorites defaulted "On" and allow the choice for other numbers.

At least they've fixed the other access-related issues surrounding the "emergency call" feature.
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