For years, security officials have been urging the public to be aware of their surroundings and report anything suspicious. Now the anti-terrorism mantra "If you see something, say something" is being adapted for the digital age.
A new app called "See Something, Send Something" seeks to make it easier than ever to tip off officials to a suspicious person or unattended package with a few taps of your smartphone. It's now being used in New York City.
"You register with your name and your phone number, and if you see something suspicious, like everyone always says to watch out for, you can either take a picture of it or write a little note about it, and just hit the 'send' button and it goes off to an agency somewhere that vets it," CNET editor Dan Ackerman explains.
The app is free for Apple and Android devices. "We are doing everything we can to keep New Yorkers safe, and this is one way you can help," says a New York State web page featuring the app.
If someone sends in a photo or message through the app, "It goes to a central intelligence office here in New York State," Ackerman said. There, it gets evaluated and forwarded on to law enforcement or other officials for appropriate action.
Some critics raise concerns that the app could be abused to file false information or profile people, and it's certainly no substitute for calling 911 in an emergency situation.
But in certain scenarios, it might be a way to put useful information on the radar of security officials. "At least it gives you an opportunity to take something that's not super high priority, not a pressing, imminent danger, and say, 'Oh, somebody should take a look at this,'" Ackerman said.