Can mass surveillance really make the world a safer place? That’s what the creators of a controversial new app called Vigilante are arguing.
Unfortunately, Apple pulled the plug on the crime-reporting app this week amid growing safety concerns.
According to The Guardian, the Vigilante app — created by a company called Sp0n — was launched in New York City last week and is designed to alert users to nearby crimes that have been reported to 911. Users can employ this information to avoid crime-stricken areas — or to take justice into their own hands.
The latter is what really concerns officials at Apple; so much so, that the app has been banned from the app store.
“What if everyone within a quarter mile of every reported crime were immediately made aware of it?” Sp0n asked in a Medium post announcing the app’s launch early last week. “What if there were a camera on every crime. What if transparency existed — if we all knew where crime was occurring and how it was being resolved. Would crime as we know it still exist?”
The company has since posted a message to its website telling users that the app would no longer be available for download in Apple’s app store.
“The team is working with Apple to resolve the issue and they are confident the app will be made available in the near future,” it said. “Vigilante will introduce an Android version of the app in the upcoming weeks with plans to expand in additional cities later this year.”
While the app promotes the idea of a Utopian society of complete transparency between law enforcement and civilians, some are concerned that the live-streaming component of the app could be used to racially profile, intimidate and harass innocent minorities — rather than capture instances of police brutality and other crimes as intended, The Guardian reports.
“There’s a trade-off between visibility of a crime and making people who didn’t want to be on camera into a public spectacle,” said Sam Gregory, program director of Witness, a company that trains activists who document human rights injustices. “These types of tools tend to have racial bias and only focus on very visible incidents. Things you can see in the street.”
There’s also the worry that real-life vigilantes will put themselves, and others, in harm’s way by taking crime-fighting into their own hands. Risk of miscarriage of justice is increased when an untrained civilian steps in and starts making judgement calls over who’s wrong and who’s right.
New York police are urging citizens to leave the crime-fighting to trained professionals, for fear that self-proclaimed vigilantes might escalate a dubious situation.
“However well-meaning [this app] may be, it’s not a good idea from a public safety perspective,” James Pasco, executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police, told the New York Post. “There are going to be rare instances where it is appropriate for a citizen to intervene, but there is no substitute for organized, well-trained law enforcement to do the job.”
According to The Guardian, Apple doesn’t publicly comment on decisions like this, but it has clearly written rules when it comes to user-created apps that run the risk of online bullying, abuse and/or physical harm: They are not allowed in the app store.
A spokeswoman for Sp0n asserted that the app and its creators are solely dedicated to the empowerment of communities through technology that safeguards against crime.