a tip comes from a location outside of Colorado, analysts will shepherd it to the appropriate agency. In total, Clem said there are six analysts, with representation from the FBI.

"This gives us the right channel, directly to the analysts, to provide any kind of tip," he continued. "When the analysts get done with it, when they determine it's a credible tip, they have right next door to them representatives from other federal agencies, and other state and local agencies, and they can just transmit that tip directly to them. It was designed to overcome [interoperability] problems."

The application's simplicity makes the Web site an effective, efficient single point of information for multiple law enforcement agencies. As Cowart pointed out, its simplicity meant the CIAC didn't have to shell out a lot of money to build the application.

"We have a very small budget so we could not have done something if it was expensive," he said. "We had to be creative. We had to find a way to put these technologies together and do something innovative and capable yet on a shoestring. It was meant to do two things: to provide a method for our citizenry and our other state and local agencies to communicate with us, to provide us information if they needed to do that. Secondly we needed a management tool within the CIAC to manage what could be a huge load of information."

Neighborhood Watch

Some folks aren't too keen on the idea that anyone can report anything they want -- and do so anonymously.

Cathryn Hazouri, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, expressed concern the reporting application could encourage undesirable behavior.

"I think the problem this encourages is profiling; you see someone you don't think belongs in your neighborhood so you jump online and say, 'There's a Hispanic-looking person who's not carrying a garden tool in the Broadmore area,'" she said. "Or there's driving while black, driving while Middle Eastern. It just encourages people to profile other people."

Hazouri contends that, at the least, using the phone to report suspicious activity requires a caller to talk to another human being, ensuring a modicum of defense against haphazard or malicious abuse of the system.

Cowart acknowledges that abuses of the system may take place. But, he said, that is the case with reporting tips no matter what the medium.

"Anybody who works in law enforcement realizes an unfortunate downside is you get a lot of crank stuff, it's just the nature of the business," he said. "We take it all seriously to a point. Some of it is obviously not serious. But there are things that could be serious but probably are not. We still take them seriously until we conclude that they are not [a threat]."

But for Hazouri, the worst part is not that the system is vulnerable to abuse; it's the potential for breaking down neighbor relations.

"I think it encourages suspicion, and in its worst form. I think suspicion breeds distrust. It breeds isolation; it breeds those kinds of things that make us less neighborly, that make us less connected with the people around us," she said. "If you have a genuine suspicion, pick up the phone and call somebody."

Chad Vander Veen  | 

Chad Vander Veen is the former editor of FutureStructure.