April 13, 2011 By Sarah Rich
Kentucky isn’t the first place you’d expect to see suspicious behavior, but instances of domestic terrorism such as the Oklahoma City bombing are a reminder that criminal activities aren’t confined to high-profile cities.
With vigilance in mind, the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security (KOHS) recently released an iPhone app that mirrors the “Eyes and Ears on Kentucky” website for reporting “suspicious activity.”
The free app is designed to allow citizens to send tips to the KOHS — anonymously if they wish — on any activity that may be linked to a terrorist act.
“Instead of having to wait until they got home to the desktop computer or laptop computer in accessing our website and then linking to the reporting portal, they could bring up that app on their iPhone and basically enter the same information while they’re standing there watching the activity or looking at whatever it is they might see,” said Shelby Lawson, the KOHS’ deputy executive director of operations and prevention.
Examples of activity that could be reported to either the portal or the app include seeing someone showing an unusual interest in a building’s security system — asking several questions about how security’s accomplished and how many people are involved in the facility’s security. Suspicious activity may also include someone sketching the location, using GPS to get a facility’s coordinates, or having “just more than the casual curiosity that tourists or sightseers would take in,” Lawson said.
Citizens can also report the presence of suspicious items or objects.
When a report is submitted through the app or portal, a KOHS analyst reviews the submitted information and other relevant data to determine if there’s a pattern, repeated reports in the same location, or similar reports in similar locations. If the activity is thought to be related to terrorism, the information is then forwarded to the Joint Terrorism Task Force at the FBI. Reports have already been submitted to the KOHS since the app’s launch, but Lawson said because the app is free, the KOHS has received some innocuous information from users who are attempting to pull pranks.
The KOHS worked with a team from Kentucky.gov — Kentucky’s official website — to launch the Eyes and Ears on Kentucky Web portal and app. Funding for the portal was supplied by a $10,000 state homeland security grant; the app was built for free.
Kentucky isn’t the first government to launch an app for reporting suspicious activity. In 2010, Dallas launched a smartphone app called “iWatch Dallas” for citizens to report crimes as well as suspicious behavior that could possibly be linked to terrorism.
Not everyone feels suspicious activity reporting is effective. A 2010 report from the American Civil Liberties Union claims that suspicious activity reporting (SAR) programs can lead to submissions of many common activities, such as a person who looks through binoculars, takes pictures or draws diagrams. “SAR programs increase the probability that innocent people will be stopped by police and have their personal information collected for inclusion in law enforcement and intelligence databases,” the ACLU report said.
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