Colorado has a new tool for reporting suspicious activity online -- a tool that's raising awareness and eyebrows.
Ever since 9/11, the government asked citizens to watch for and report suspicious activities. For the last five years, reporting suspicious activities required, at the very least, picking up the telephone and dialing 911, or in some cases, 311. But on Sept. 11, 2006, a new and little-known agency called the Colorado Information Analysis Center (CIAC) launched an online application to make reporting suspicious activity much easier.
The application is getting attention because it delivers online filings directly to federal and state analysts regardless of agency or jurisdictional turf. The inability or unwillingness among law enforcement agencies to share information has been roundly criticized. This application was built with such criticism in mind, designed to get the right information to authorities who can act on it, if need be.
However, some say the prospect of the online reporting tool is disturbing, especially considering the site allows entirely anonymous reporting.
Answering the Call
The CIAC -- a fusion center designed to share homeland security information among federal, state and local officials -- is an intriguing organization. Trying to figure out who runs it can be a challenge.
On its Web site, the CIAC declares itself part of Colorado's Homeland Security Department, which is actually operated by the Colorado State Patrol, a division of the Colorado Department of Public Safety.
"The way the Colorado Information Analysis Center is organized, it is actually a state function," said State Patrol Sgt. Jack Cowart. "It comes under the Office of Preparedness and Security for the state of Colorado. Currently it is being managed by the Colorado State Patrol, but it's not a state patrol function. It truly is a state function because we realize threats to our security are not necessarily law enforcement threats."
Regardless, the Web site and application are simple. Save for a few news items, a brief frequently asked questions section and a provision to contact 911 for emergencies, the heart of the site is reached by clicking the "Report Suspicious Activity" link.
This takes users to an online form, which first prompts them to note the date, time, location, description and type of incident. Following is a field to attach media files. Suspect and vehicle details are next. Lastly users have the option to fill out a personal information field, or leave it blank if they wish to remain anonymous.
Lance Clem, public information officer of the Colorado Department of Public Safety, said the system responds to citizens who had been getting mixed signals about where to report suspicious activity.
"Ever since 9/11 -- and even before that -- we have had calls from citizens who wanted to report something suspicious," Clem said. "In the past, we took [tips] down almost wherever they came in. Sometimes they came in on what's called the Governor's Advocate line to the Department of Public Safety. Sometimes they'd go directly to a law enforcement agency -- they sort of went a number of different directions. I don't think there was any clear direction to citizens about what they could do with a tip like that."
On the surface, there is nothing revolutionary about the application except for what happens when a user clicks "submit." Instead of the tip printing out at the local sheriff's substation, it travels directly to a team of analysts from state, federal and local law enforcement agencies. If