By Melissa Daniels | PA Independent
HARRISBURG — Spying on your neighbors has never been so interactive – or government-regulated.
The Pennsylvania State Police announced the launch of “See Something, Send Something,” a mobile app that lets users report suspicious activity directly to police. The focus is specifically to prevent potential terrorist attacks.
But these apps open the door for all kinds of personals boundary invasions. Any smartphone user will be able to take a picture of a fellow citizen and deliver it straight to state police under the pretense that something is off – and from there, who knows how data will be used.
App users can anonymously send text or photo tips directly to the Pennsylvania Criminal Intelligence Center. Then, if analysts think the tips indicate possible terrorism activity, they will share reports with local, state or federal authorities, according to a press release.
Since cell phones are nearly as essential to leaving the house as the keys to the front door, a reporting app may just be the next evolution of the anonymous tip telephone line. But since the definition of a potential threat is likely to vary from one individual to the next, one has to wonder if the app enables spying on fellow citizens who are, in reality, harmless.
To this end, PSP included a disclaimer in its press release to define suspicious activity:
“Factors such as race, ethnicity, national origin, or religious affiliation alone are not suspicious activity. For that reason, the public should report only suspicious behavior and situations (e.g., an unattended backpack or briefcase in a public place) rather than beliefs, thoughts, ideas, expressions, associations, or speech unrelated to terrorism or other criminal activity.”
The app, available for iPhones or Android devices, is free.
Pennsylvania is hardly the first government entity to launch an app that encourages citizen reporting of suspicious activity. Department of Homeland Security offices in states like West Virginia and Delaware have launched a suspicious activity reporting app in September.
And the police department at the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority has a similar app that lets users send photos, tips or reports of problems to officers, or call them directly.
Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan said in a statement that the app is an “effective communications and reporting tool.” Even one tip could protect Pennsylvania from a terrorist attack, Noonan said.
“No one knows what goes on in your neighborhood better than you,” Noonan said. “You may see or hear things that seem out of the ordinary and raise your suspicions — if you see something suspicious taking place, report it.”
Contact Melissa Daniels at firstname.lastname@example.org