Citizen, the crime reporting and neighborhood watch app, says it will be granted access to the encrypted communications of at least one police department once it switches over to encrypting its radio traffic, according to an internal Citizen document obtained by Motherboard.
The news shows that beyond passively ingesting police radio traffic to then push alerts to its user base, as part of what Citizen calls "incidents," the company will also try to enter agreements with police departments to maintain that access while the wider public is cut-off.
The document says that Citizen got confirmation that the Baltimore Police Department would work with Citizen to keep access to the department's communications. Baltimore is planning to encrypt its radio traffic.
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Lindsey Eldridge, director of public affairs and community outreach at the Baltimore Police Department, told Motherboard in an email that the department will be providing equipment to established media outlets to then access the encrypted communications if the outlets sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). Asked if that would include Citizen, Eldridge said that "If Citizen agrees and sign[s] off on the MOU, they would be available to receive the equipment."
A Citizen spokesperson told Motherboard in an email that "Citizen was built on the idea of opening up the decades-old 911 system to make it faster, more effective, and more transparent, and we hope to work with many more police departments who share these values."
Citizen workers listen to emergency services audio and then write short summaries to push to their user base. Recently, Citizen has outsourced some of this work to a company called CloudFactory, which has workers in Nepal and Kenya, Motherboard previously reported.
Some recent erroneous alerts include Citizen reporting a plane crash at Los Angeles International Airport—it was actually a training drill—and a false report of 30 armed men with guns in Oakland.
Police departments around the country are increasingly encrypting their police radio traffic. Eldridge added that "The new radios will increase interoperability with our local and state public safety partners, but also protect potential victims and witnesses, and ensure operational and investigative integrity."
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