One crusading Philadelphia politician is using iPhones to fight corruption and fraud. City Controller Alan Butkovitz announced the launch of Philly Watchdog, an anti-corruption iPhone application, on April 19. The app allows users to notify the city government of municipal activities that they believe are wasting taxpayer money; it is the city of Philadelphia’s first foray into smartphone applications. Philly Watchdog is the first application created to monitor municipal fraud in the United States, and it allows city residents to send photo and video evidence of wrongdoing to the Controller’s office.
Butkovitz says that the application will hopefully increase government transparency:
It allows citizens to play a crucial role in protecting their tax dollars by reporting fraud, waste and abuse directly to the City Controller’s office. […] One of the key features of the Philly Watchdog app is the ability for users to record and upload video of fraudulent activities in the act and to send them directly to our team.
Other cities are experimenting with the use of smartphones as a tool for civic engagement and local government. The SeeClickFix system is used as a collaborative 311 system by thousands of municipalities, while the gov 2.0 movement has a wide array of allies in their efforts to make government accountable to the public through new media.
Apart from the ability to send still photos, audio files, and videos of perceived municipal corruption, the app also records the GPS location of perceived wrongdoing and geotags evidence sent into the Controller’s office. Users are given the option of reporting incidents anonymously, and also have access to a one-touch button to call the Controller’s office directly. The application was created at a cost of $5,400, and the city received assistance from Apple in creating the product.
While the app may have potential for spotting city employees taking two-hour lunch breaks at the corner bar or city-owned vehicles being used for personal errands, there are fears that Philly Watchdog could be used for revenge by disgruntled citizens. Meanwhile, unions representing municipal employees fear that the application is “overkill.” Cathy Scott of District Council 47 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees told Government Technology‘s Brian Heaton that the app is unnecessary:
I see this as an unnecessary duplication of existing efforts that is very easily abused […] Part of the problem is misrepresentation of the facts or abuse of trying to investigate properly. The average citizen does not know whether a [city employee] is on the clock. It’s just overkill and a waste of money.
At this time, Philly Watchdog is only available for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. Philadelphia’s city government has not announced plans to release Android- or BlackBerry-compatible versions.