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emergency alerts

New App Lets Bay Area Commuters Silently Report Crime

The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) has released a new mobile app that allows riders to discreetly report criminal activity on the trains. BART Watch, available on iTunes and Android in English, Spanish, and Chinese, empowers users to snap photos or send quick texts to BART police rather than try to call 911 or run to a train's intercom. BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost told SFGate that it's "sort of like texting police," and you can even do it anonymously. How does this app square with other tech efforts by law enforcement? App to Report Mass Transit Crime Anonymously With the advent of driving report programs like REDDI, it was only a matter of time until someone adapted the concept for mass transit passengers. BART authorities had announced in March that they were collaborating with ELERTS Corporation to make the BART Alert app, similar versions of which had been created in Massachusetts Bay, Atlanta, and Santa Clara, California. This new app was part of a larger national effort, urging transit passengers that "If You See Something, Say Something." The vague yet Orwellian slogan was cooked up by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and encourages average citizens to act as extra eyes and ears for law enforcement. New apps like these may be especially in demand in cities like New York, where the police department has taken a hard stance on even the most minor crimes which occur in the city's subways. How Do You Use the App? After installing the app, BART Watch asks for permission to send you emergency alerts and "push" notifications. Then, you are asked to enter your first name, last name, email, phone number, and even face picture. A small disclaimer at the bottom notes that the information is "optional." Once you pass these initial screens, you are lead to the app's main page with the following main options: Report an incident or call BART police. Since one of the selling points of this free app was as an alternative to calling 911, we checked out reporting an incident. The menus were fairly user friendly and allowed users to take photos, type a brief report and even select the type of report and location of the activity. It also included an option to toggle between normal and "anonymous" reporting. Trends like this new app may allow law enforcement to more readily police transit lines in major cities. Related Resources: BART launching app to help riders report crime, suspicious activity (The San Francisco Examiner) Are Police Scanner Apps Illegal? (FindLaw's Blotter) NYC Cops Nab Alleged Rapist Via iPhone App (FindLaw's Blotter) ACLU's New App Secretly Records Police When You Get Pulled Over (FindLaw's Technologist)
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How Do Cell Phone AMBER Alerts Work?

Cell phone AMBER alerts are becoming more common, but they're still catching many mobile users off guard. How exactly do they work? Sending AMBER alerts to cell phones in a particular area is relatively new, but the system has been in place for more than a year now. Just this week, smartphone users in parts of Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma received such an alert, many for the first time, Wichita's KAKE-TV reports. Here is a brief overview of the laws and programs which undergird cell phone AMBER alerts: Wireless Emergency Alerts The AMBER alert system is regulated by the federal government -- specifically the Department of Justice -- to disseminate information about abducted children. These alerts appear on electronic highway signs, in radio and television announcements, and as many cell phone users are now aware, on mobile phones as well. Sending AMBER Alerts to mobile phones is made possible by the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) program. This program allows public warnings to be sent to WEA-enabled phones across the country and is also utilized by agencies like FEMA to warn of dangerous weather or national emergencies. According to the DOJ, beginning in January 2013, all AMBER alerts are sent automatically through the WEA system to WEA-ready mobile phones. However, this service does not cover all wireless users. According to the Federal Communications Commission, participation in the WEA program is voluntary for wireless carriers, and it is possible that your carrier or even your cell phone may not support receiving WEAs -- including AMBER alerts. Those who are able to receive these alerts can receive government-approved alerts sent directly to their mobile devices. Cell phone AMBER alerts appear just like text messages, but they do not impact a mobile user's text message plan and are entirely free. Can You Turn AMBER Alerts Off? AMBER alerts and some weather-related alerts may be turned off on many cell phones. Each phone may be slightly different in its settings, but only a few taps are necessary to disable AMBER alerts on iPhones and Android devices. Although AMBER alerts can be disabled, not all WEAs can. Under the WARN Act passed in 2006, the FCC does not allow mobile users to disable messages issued by the President of the United States. While these messages may be jarring or unexpected, take a moment to consider leaving them on. Californians received their first real test of the cell phone AMBER alert in August, and it eventually led to an abducted 16-year-old girl's rescue. These AMBER alerts may be annoying, but for a culture that perpetually endures online ads and spam on our cell phones, it's a small irritation for a powerful tool. Related Resources: Amber Alert message caught many off guard (Wichita, Kansas' KSN-TV) AMBER Alerts Now Showing Up on Google Maps (FindLaw's Blotter) Kidnapper Thwarted by Amber Alert, Driver (FindLaw's Blotter) AMBER Alerts (FindLaw)
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