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CitizenObserver.com On The Watch

CitizenObserver.com is a website that encourages citizens and police to work together to solve crimes. Citizens and businesses can sign up to receive alerts from police, and provide tips; police organizations can sign up to receive the tips and dispense alerts to citizens and businesses in defined areas.

The site has an elaborate tip form to allow citizens to report people that they find suspicious. The information requested includes marks and tattoos, hangouts, known associates, and gang affiliations. You can even upload a photograph of the "suspect." The tips are submitted via another site, TipSubmit.com.


(CitizenObserver tip form [partial] for Pittsburgh, PA)

The site is currently in use by 300 law enforcement agencies in thirty states, according to Terry Halsch, president of the St. Paul, Minn.-based company. Mr. Halsch is apparently the owner of the site as well. In a 2005 New York Times article, he also suggests making your outdoor cameras accessible from the Internet, to allow anyone to watch what's happening on your street. "We're trying to bring back something of the old feeling of neighbors watching out for each other, combined with new technology," Mr. Halsch said.

A recent article on the use of the system in Pittsburgh states that it is too early to tell if it will be helpful; no arrests due to citizen participation have been reported.

Not everyone seems as happy about this site as Mr. Halsch. The site raises a variety of concerns from civil liberties and privacy advocates. On DemocraticUnderground.com, it is described as a "Big Brother type of website that allows you to report your neighbors." Site users note concerns ranging from CitizenObserver becoming a mecca for busybodies with noting better to do than watch their neighbors, to the site being a place where upper-class people with easy access to computers can report everyone else, to worries that this is yet another step towards establishing a police state in which everyone is forced to watch everyone else.

One commenter thought of the same thing I did - the similarity between this site and the police use of media in Ray Bradbury's 1953 novel Fahrenheit 451. In the novel, the police are chasing Guy Montag, the novel's protagonist. The police use the parlor wall televisions (an early reference to the big screen TV you have now) to organize a group effort by the public.

"Police suggest entire population in the Elm Terrace area do as follows: Everyone in every house in every street open a font or rear door or look from the windows. The fugitive cannot escape if everyone in the next minute looks from his house. Ready!"

The doors opened...

He imagined thousands on thousands of faces peering into yards, into alleys, and into the sky, faces hid by curtains, pale, night-frightened faces, like gray animals peering from electric caves... (From Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury)

The director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Pennsylvania, Vic Walczak, says "I don't have any alarm bells going off."

Read more news articles about Surveillance (with a science-fictional twist):

What do you think? Comment on CitizenObserver.com.

Thanks to Joanne98 for this story; read more at Government Innovators Network and DemocraticUnderground.com. Also, see this 2005 NY Times article (may require registration) as well as CitizenObserver.com.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 6/3/2007)

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