Offender Locator, available in the App store
Since its introduction a few years ago iPhones have been used for everything from downloading music, to playing games, to (every once in a while) actually making a phone call. Here at OhMyGov we have covered some of the more unique uses and features for the slim little offspring of Steve Jobs' ego. While many of these applications help users gain access to their government and surrounding community, at least one is helping users track the whereabouts of everyone's favorite cast of wacky characters... registered sex offenders!
Yes that's right, your iPhone isn't just for wasting hours upon hours at Brick Breaker anymore. You can now use the ubiquitous gadget to further your hobby as an amateur private investigator. Since being released last summer, the "Offender Locator" app has consistently ranked among the most popular iPhone apps. The program uses GPS technology to track the locations of all registered sex offenders within a 10-mile radius.
"I am constantly worrying about the well-being of my family," Tracy Rodriguez, a Houston mother of three who uses the app "several times a day" told CNN.com shortly after the its launch last summer. "You can't be too careful."
Offender Locator isn't the only iPhone app to tap into user's safety concerns and/or irrational panic. Companies like Intelius Inc., which provides users with online access to public records, have recently launched apps like "Date Check" which the company describes as "like having a private investigator in your purse."
Wondering if that guy your best friend set you up with is a hedge fund billionaire or has a rap sheet a mile long? Well wonder no more, just tap his name into Date Check and find out his life story before you've even ordered appetizers.
Intelius executive vice president John Arnold told CNN that the application "gives you peace of mind of who you might be interacting with."
Not everyone thinks this burgeoning transparency-for-profit industry is such a wonderful thing however. Lillie Coney, of the public interest group Electronic Privacy Information Center, describes the app's effects as "turning everyone into a police officer."
"Is that the way society's resources should be used?" Coney asks.
Coney raises some truly legitimate questions. Parents surely have the right to know if their children are at risk, but how much is too much? Is there any real reason to check on the number of sex offenders in your 10-mile radius every time you cross the street? It is a fine line between vigilance and panic.
Even some law enforcement officials have expressed concerns over the rise of apps selling access to public information. Police in Montgomery County, Maryland, have publicly criticized the PhantomALERT app which warns users (who are presumably driving recklessly or while impaired) of upcoming DUI checkpoints and speed traps. "That is a risk to public safety, allowing a potentially impaired driver to avoid detection and possibly harm him or herself or someone else on the roadway," police department spokeswoman Lucille Bauer told CNN.
These apps, and many others like them, appear to be something of a double-edged sword. While no one can criticize the warning of impending danger posed by nearby convicted felons, at some point the line into an area of overheated paranoia is crossed. Then again, just because you're not sure if the guy in the next cubicle is a weekend axe murderer doesn't mean he isn't. Wait; hold on...we just need to check something on our iPhone really quick.