FBI releases new iPhone app for identifying missing children

Is there something missing from the FBI's new Child ID mobile app for missing children? Some parents and users think so.

The FBI has released its first mobile application, the FBI Child ID App for iPhone, designed to help locate and identify missing children. Early responses from parents are enthusiastic, but they also suggest the application could be missing an important feature.

The free FBI Child ID application made available Aug. 5 on iTunes allows parents to store their children’s electronic photographs and vital statistics, such as name, height and weight, and to display the photos and information on the device as a quick reference available to security or police officers. It also allows for e-mailing the information to authorities. It also has a button for calling 911 for emergency assistance.

FBI officials said the goal was to enable parents to quickly provide descriptive and identifying information to help in a search for missing children.

“You're shopping at the mall with your children when one of them suddenly disappears. A quick search of the nearby area is unsuccessful. What do you do? Now there's a free new tool from the FBI that can help,” the FBI said.

Parents and other users give the app good reviews, but the majority of the comments on the iTunes store to date suggest that users are uncomfortable with entering sensitive personal information about their children in their mobile devices without password protection. At least three users have requested that the bureau add a password-protection feature to safeguard the sensitive personal information stored on the application.

“This seems like a great app and is a good idea, but one huge thing is missing: The app isn't password protected," a parent commented on the iTunes website. "So if someone steals my phone they have easy access to all my kids' data, including nicknames and where we live."

“Good idea. Won’t use until they lock it down,” came from another user.

Another user suggested that children may be tempted to use the application to call 911 if there is no access limitation. “Password-protecting it will prevent someone (a child perhaps) from being tempted to press the big red button to call 911,” another commenter added.

FBI officials were not immediately available to comment.

The FBI Child ID application also includes safety tips and guidelines for what to do in the first hours a child is missing.

The FBI is publicizing the new application with the American Football Coaches Association, which partners with the FBI in the National Child Identification Program. The program provides kits to parents to gather children’s photographs, fingerprints, physical characteristics and even DNA in case of an emergency.

The FBI said it is exploring whether to expand the application to other types of mobile devices in the near future.

Neither the FBI nor iTunes collects or stores any of the photographs or information entered into the Child ID application, the FBI said.

“All data resides solely on your mobile device unless you need to send it to authorities,” the agency said. It also recommended that users check their mobile providers' terms of service regarding the security of the data stored on the device.