TRAVERSE CITY — A new smartphone app will serve as a “two-way communication tool” for the Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s Department and the community, but officials appeared unaware an app could open or close more communication channels than desired.
Sheriff Tom Bensley said AppArrest eventually will replace the department’s other methods of providing information to the public. The free app available for iPhones and Android smartphones allows users to report crime tips and abandoned vehicles, view maps of crime incidents and receive news releases and alerts.
“We’re just trying to push stuff out to a wider audience, and they can interact with us,” Bensley said.
But Bensley and Undersheriff Nate Alger initially didn’t know how much personal information the app gleans from users.
And access to personal information is an issue these days, in light of revelations of widespread government eavesdropping and electronic data collection, hacking of retailers’ data vaults, and websites that routinely collect and sell users personal information.
Privacy is important to consider when smartphone apps can access a user’s contact list, location information and even photographs, said Jeramie Scott, a national security counsel with the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, D.C.
“The law enforcement (agency) who may be putting out smartphone apps should really be very specific about what permissions a user will be granting when using an app and specific about what they are using the app for,” Scott said.
Phil Coraci, developer of AppArrest, said about 40 law enforcement agencies in 17 states signed up for the app since the Clare County Sheriff’s Department became the first customer in 2012. He calls it a “two-way communication tool” between police agencies and their communities.
“The community likes it because it’s non-gossip information from the sheriff or chief of police,” he said.