Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Sunday

February 9, 2014

Editorial: Law enforcement app raises many questions

Let the user beware.

That’s an apt warning for anyone who might consider adding a smartphone app newly embraced by Grand Traverse County sheriff’s officials who contend they want to expand communications between the department and public.

The new app - dubbed AppArrest - is free to users, available for iPhones and Android smartphones, and lets users report crime tips and abandoned vehicles, view maps of crime incidents and receive news releases and alerts.

AppArrest is touted as a “two-way communication tool” that’s supposed to replace the department’s other pubic information vehicles. But there are plenty of questions created by Sheriff Tom Bensley’s decision to veer into app world, not the least of which center on user privacy, including the developer’s and/or law enforcement’s potential access to user data such as telephone numbers and IP addresses.

Bensley showed little interest in asking those questions of the app’s developer before he inked a deal for $1,300 annually. Bensley admitted he never considered what AppArrest’s developer might do with phone numbers and other personal data the company might glean from users who are forced to go the app route if they want to know anything going on with Grand Traverse sheriff’s operations.

AppArrest developer Phil Coraci said the app doesn’t obtain personal information other than phone numbers and carrier data for users who want text message alerts. He said the company doesn’t have the ability to store personal information that can be tracked.

Just take his word for it.

Sheriff’s officials said users who choose to stay anonymous can withhold their name and phone number from AppArrest, but noted IP addresses - a string of numbers that identifies a computer or network-connected device - remain visible. And traceable.

Bensley pledged his officers won’t snoop on AppArrest users, but it’d be nice to see that in writing, perhaps as an official policy.

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