Boston transit agency launches crime-reporting mobile app
BOSTON—The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority has released a smartphone application to allow individuals to send reports of suspicious activity, including photos, to the Transit Police Department.
The smartphone app is called See Say and is related to the Department of Homeland Security's "See Something, Say Something" campaign. In fact, the development of the app was funded by DHS's Transit Security Grant Program.
The new app will "empower riders to be our eyes and ears in the system," MBTA Transit Police Chief Paul MacMillan said in a statement.
The MBTA is the first transit system in the United States to launch such a smartphone app. Elerts, a Boston-area company, developed the app.
See Say is a two-way app. Not only does it allow MBTA riders to proactively communicate with transit police, it allows the MBTA to comment back to riders. It also enables alerts to be sent in emergency situations. The app is discreet–messages can be sent automatically and a phone camera's flash is automatically turned off.
To accommodate the use of the mobile app, the MBTA Transit Police Department has lifted all bans on taking photos on its property, according to the Boston Globe.
The advent of smartphone applications that allow individuals to snap photos of people they find suspicious and send those images to police does raise questions about privacy and liability.
In a panel at this year's TechSec—the emerging technology conference organized by Security Director News and our sister publication, Security Systems News—Whit Chaiyabhat, director of emergency management and operational continuity at Georgetown University, discussed the use of similar smartphone apps on college campuses that would allow students to send suspicious-activity reports to campus police. The adoption of such tools requires a "measured approach," Chaiyabhat said. "While I think it's very interesting and engaging and there are many opportunities out there in terms of mobile security applications, we need to go in with open eyes. As security professionals we need to ensure that we are considering the impacts on operational security, privacy, response procedures and how our legal system will adapt to handle these technologies as part of our assessment of the systems."
The MBTA did not return several of SDN's phone calls seeking comment.
The See Say app can be downloaded here.