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PatriotApp Review: Keeping the USA Secure or Creepy Big Brother?

written by: Elton Gahr•edited by: Simon Hill•updated: 7/20/2011
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The balance between freedom and security is a delicate one. The danger of PatriotApp is that it seems to lean a bit too far to the security side. The app allows you to report any number of threats or crimes by sending messages to the FBI, CDC and even the EPA.

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    There are few more controversial subjects than government and few subjects inside government discussions more likely to start arguments than security. Everyone wants to be secure, but at the same time more security is almost always accompanied by limitations on freedom.

    PatriotApp is an app that represents that difficulty well. It has the potential to help enhance security but there are legitimate questions about the likelihood both of this creating extra work for the government agencies and of it encouraging people to report each other to the authorities for minor or even non-existent problems. So the question for this app is not only whether it works well, but also if it creates more problems than it solves.

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    What PatriotApp Does

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    PatriotApp is at its most basic a watch dog app, created under the same assumption as neighborhood watches. It assumes that having citizens keep a careful eye on everything and everyone will enhance security. To this end it allows you to create messages for a number of different organizations and on a number of subjects. These categories are national security threat, suspicious activities, crime report, product safety, environmental safety, government waste, pandemic and whistle blower. It also gives access to a most wanted list, in theory, though it did not actually show any information for me when it was tried.

    Once you choose one of the categories you are given a simple form to fill out. This includes optionally your name, phone number and email and requires street addresses of the incident, a note about the threat information and level of danger which is on a color coded wheel. It will then email your message to the correct organization, be that FBI, EPA, CDC or even the PatriotApp itself.

    All of this could be done without the app simply by having an email address for these organizations, but the ability to use the app does give some potential anonymity and makes it easier to report things when you are out and about. So while the inability to access the most wanted list is a problem, there is some value to be had here, but not a lot. So, discounting any politics and simply looking at the app's success at doing what it sets out to do this app is no more than average in its success.

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    The Idea Behind PatriotApp

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    It is very easy to simply look at PatriotApp and see Big Brother, or more accurately little brother with citizens watching each other all the time. The difficulty of that charge is that it is not the fault of the app. This may encourage people to report each other, but if the laws are too stringent that is the fault of the lawmakers. On the other hand if people are over reporting that is the fault of those who are reporting. That is because there is nothing in this app that is new, it simply makes it easier to send in these reports. There are also real legitimate uses for this app. The whistle blower section for example has the potential to be useful and the anonymity in that section would certainly be important. You would hope that if there is a national security threat that it would be reported in whatever way worked best.

    Where this app becomes more problematic is in the idea that someone would be using this so often that they would need an app. There are of course people who may report things this often. The problem is that, in general, they are probably not the type of people that the FBI, CDC or any other group wants to hear from. There is also the question of this app being abused. The danger of using this the wrong way comes in two forms. The first is the risk that someone could report someone else who hasn’t done anything wrong. There is nothing stopping this from happening. This isn’t really all that likely to happen often though. More dangerous could be if someone used this to report something that actually is immediately dangerous instead of contacting the correct people directly. This is dangerous because an email isn't generally going to get anything done quickly and could be easy to ignore.

    So whether you are worried about the likelihood of a police state or the dangers of this being used to report something that really is dangerous it fails on both sides. Still, there are specific situations where this could be useful and used correctly so it gets a bit of credit simply because it has the potential to be useful.

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    Ease of Use

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    One good thing about PatriotApp is that it is very easy to use. You can get to each of the forms to report an issue from a single home screen and once you’ve entered those screens they are reasonably self explanatory forms. The problem is that part of the reason that this is so easy to use is because there really isn’t all that much here. There are a few basic activities you can report, but it also misses some that are likely to be very common for some people, such as illegal aliens, and while you could send that report to a different category it would then go to the wrong organization.

    The forms themselves are generally easy, but this could be made a lot easier by letting you save your basic information in the app. That way if you happen to use this regularly you would not have to fill in your basic information every time. Still, entering the information isn’t all that difficult and if you’re entering information into this that regularly there would likely be a better way to send in the reports.

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    Overview

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    The basic idea of PatriotApp is one that makes so many people uncomfortable and the fact that this could be replaced with a handful of email addresses added to your contacts list makes it hard to rate this app well. It is also a highly specific app which very few people are going to use correctly more than once and many would never use at all.

    On the other hand it does generally do what it sets out to do. This means that if you have a reason to send somewhat regular messages to any of these organizations it may be worth the 99 cents for you to do so. Although it seems likely anyone who has regular information for any of these organizations would be taken more seriously with a more direct contact than through this app. As such I cannot recommend this app.

    (Cost: 99 cents) Download Link

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    References