Insides about Crime & Surveillance App Citizen

Sicherheit (Pexels, allgemeine Nutzung)[German]A hacktivist has managed to pull huge amounts of data from the crime app Citizen and subsequently published it on the dark web. The dataset contains 1.7 million "incidents" (the notifications in the app), which reveals new insights into how Citizen works.


Citizen (formerly Virgilante) is a mobile app that sends users location-based security alerts about crimes in real time. The app allows users to read updates on ongoing alerts, stream live video and leave comments. In doing so, the app monitors radio antennas installed in major cities to monitor 911 communications. In March 2020, Citizen added the SafePass COVID-19 digital contact tracker. The app is currently available for iOS and Android devices in 20 U.S. cities, including New York City. So the functionality is only available in the US, the app was controversial especially in its original form Vigilante because it supports mob justice.

Citizen Sicherheits-App

In  the above tweet,  Joseph Cox of Motherboard linked to this article. A hacktivist has pulled a bunch of data from the crime and neighborhood surveillance app Citizen and posted the whole thing on DarkWeb. The data includes a huge amount of data related to 1.7 million "incidents." That's the name of the events that the (paid) Citizen app sends to users to notify them of crimes or perceived crimes in their neighborhoods. The messages include the GPS coordinates where the incident took place, its update history, a clip of the police radio, what the incident refers to, and related images. The data leak allows conclusions to be drawn about how the service operates.

In another article, Joseph Cox describes an incident in which Citizen's CEO used the app to try to apprehend an arsonist. It involved a fire that had broken out in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood of Los Angeles earlier that afternoon. Citizen had received a tip that the fire had been set by an arsonist.

The CEO Frame decided later that night that the fire was a great opportunity to push the service. The idea: Citizen would take the suspect live on the air and hunt him down using a new livestreaming service called OnAir. Thousands of people would watch. Frame decided that the Citizen user who provided information leading to the suspect's arrest would receive $10,000. Frame wanted the alleged arsonist apprehended and later increased the reward to US $30,000.


As the night progressed, Citizen received more and more information about the alleged suspect. They obtained a photo of the man that was posted on the app. The whole thing degenerated into a full-fledged hunt, which was controlled via the service Slack, because the CEO conferred with Citizen employees there.

At the end of the day, the police were able to arrest the suspected arsonist – the person hunted via the Citizen app had nothing to do with the fire. The incident showed how critical such apps are and what misguided developments there are – especially in the USA – in this area. And suddenly it was back to that: The service or app used to be called Vigilante, which was highly controversial because it supported mob justice.

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