OAKLAND (KPIX 5) — A new app from BART is supposed to be a discreet way to report crime on the transit system. But privacy advocates and the American Civil Liberties Union are sounding the alarm.

The app, called BART Watch, allows riders who see criminal, unruly or suspicious behavior on BART to text, take pictures and send them directly to police dispatch.

BART COVERAGE:

“This one here is a guy who was on the train acting aggressively with rocks,” said Deputy Chief Benson Fairow of BART Police.

Most of the 150 reports sent in so far are far tamer. “The vast majority of them are involving incidents on the train,” Fairow said.

Before the app, riders had to find a police officer or conductor or get on the train intercom to make a report.

“I think anything that increases the safety, makes me feel safer using BART or public transportation is a good thing,” said Stephanie Kobesky, a BART rider.

Not everyone agrees, like the ACLU.

“Perfectly legal and constitutional behavior is going to get swept up and put into law enforcement databases,” said Will Matthews of the ACLU of Northern California.

They are worried that BART will essentially keep a slideshow of protesters, panhandlers or even people just riding the train.

The other concern is privacy for the person using the app. “There are all kinds of ways that BART will be able to sweep up sensitive information, about users including their location, for example. We don’t know what BART is doing with that,” Matthews said.

Fairow said, “When you actually go to send the report, if you want to be anonymous for this one occasion, you click on the button and you send the report.”

When asked how anonymous the app is, Fairow said. “Well, you know, we are going to be looking into the privacy issues.”

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