Monday, 20 December 2010

Convinced Your Neighbor Is a Terrorist? There's an App for That.

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Want to help the Department of Homeland Security identify and track potential threats to our safety? There’s an app for that.

Florida-based software developer Citizen Concepts has developed the “PatriotApp,” an application for use on the iPhone and other smartphones that allows users to input “suspicious” information and instantly upload the details for vetting by various government agencies. The application’s description on the App Store explains its usefulness this way:

PatriotApp deputizes your iPhone or iPad! It is the world’s first app that allows citizens to assist government agencies in creating safer, cleaner, and more efficient communities. The easy to use graphical interface allows you to report pertinent information to government agencies and share with others via social networking and blogs, all at your fingertips.

Screenshots from the app reveal the general headings under which these “deputies” can send the data they gather. There’s “National Security Threat,” “Suspicious Activity,” “Crime Report,” “Product Safety,” “Environmental Safety,” “Government Waste,” “Pandemic,” “Whistle Blower,” and “Most Wanted.”

Again, from the developer’s own description of their product: “This app was founded on the belief that citizens can provide the most sophisticated and broad network of eyes and ears necessary to prevent terrorism, crime, environmental negligence, or other malicious behavior.”

Who are the intended recipients of the digital deluge of critical information that will be provided by this army of assistants? The app has handy one-touch links to the FBI, the EPA, the GAO, and the CDC. Curiously, no information is provided by the software company as to what the government agencies will do with all this vital information once it is received from the civilian spy corps.

The process for recording and uploading the necessary identifying data couldn’t be easier. Just input the address of the threat, spin the dial to the appropriate threat level (“High,” “Elevated,” “Guarded,” etc.), and click on the intended agency/recipient’s link. Then, in moments, someone, somewhere, will do something with that very specific information. The app further enables ambitious informers to attach photos and GPS coordinates to their submissions by supplying pre-populated forms to assist them.

All this power in one shiny, user-friendly integrated interface raises the question: Where was the iPhone when the Stasi was bugging bedrooms and using death threats to compel East Germans to spy on their neighbors?

Who is Citizen Concepts? Corporate information listed on the Florida Department of State website reveals that Citizen Concepts is a DBA of Patriot Applications, LLC., a software development and services company managed by Ronald Reinighaus and Roy Swiger. The company’s own website lists the men as co-founders and contacts for further information.

In a press release issued on the day of its release, Swiger proclaimed his vision of the proper use of his application: “This application was created on the belief that citizens are the strongest source of vigilance and action. We simply leverage technology to bridge the divide between people and their government."

Co-founder Chuck Reinighaus added, "The product is named PatriotApp™, to remind global citizens to be continually vigilant and to engage in preserving the security and safety of our world."

While the press release indicates a $1.99 charge for the app, it is currently being offered for free on Apple’s App Store.

Photo: AP Images