Messaging pictures as a safety device

Published 24 October 2008

A Pittsburgh-based startup allows you to take pictures of threatening individuals you may encounter in hairy situations, and message these pictures to a secure “vault”; if you do not come back to your home or office by a specified time, the date- and time-stamped pictures are made available to the police

We have heard this line repeated in many a movie: Our guy walks into a meeting with the bad guys, and he starts the by saying: “No point in you killing me. I’ve left a sealed envelope with my lawyer, and if he doesn’t hear from me by tomorrow morning, he will send it to the police and they will catch you.”

Wouldn’t you know it: A Pittsburgh-base start-up named My Mobile Witness is now offering a visual version of the old line. This is how it works: If you find yourself in a hairy in a situation, you snap a picture with your phone of the person or persons who make you uneasy and message it to My Mobile Witness. You may also just tap out a text message. My Mobile Witness time-stamps and stores the message, and if you end up getting into trouble, it gives law enforcement access to your “vault” of messages.

For deterrence purposes, you may want to let the threatening individual know that you have just snapped and e-mailed a picture of him or of his car or license plate — and that that picture will be made available to the authorities if something happens to you. Police, by the way, can access the vault without a subpoena or court order if they go through “Fusion Centers” that coordinate state law enforcement efforts.

AP’s Peter Svensson writes that company founders, Marcus Anthony and Scott Bullens came up with the idea when they bought a real-estate firm and became concerned with the safety of their agents. They made it a policy that their employees had to take pictures of the clients they were meeting and send them to the office. Ron Knight, a former FBI agent who serves as a security consultant for the startup, cautioned that the service is no replacement for a 911 call in an immediately threatening situation.

The service is free for users, but the firm says it may e-mail them once or twice a month with messages from sponsors.