Sniffer dog avoidance: A wireless app with bite

An Australian site that warns members by SMS when drug detection dogs are nearby is proving more popular than its founders had anticipated

The controversial Web site is in the process of upgrading to a larger server following high traffic loads which have frequently knocked its services off air.

The site, which is operated by NSW Council for Civil Liberties and Redfern Legal Centre, sends registered members SMS messages to warn them where police are patrolling drug detection dogs. It hit the headlines last month, sparking an outcry from the New South Wales police minister, Michael Costa, who called for the site to be taken down.

When asked if the site operators had bowed to pressure from Costa and suspended services, NSW Council for Civil Liberties president Cameron Murphy said: "Absolutely not."

"We're shifting it to a larger server due to the huge demand there at the moment."

"It's on and off depending on how many people log's simply because it's getting so much publicity. We didn't expect it to be so popular," he added.

According to Murphy, this is the first time an "instant message" service like this has been put in place. The site uses the services of a number of verified scouts in the field who report where sniffer dogs are being patrolled by sending a code via SMS to the Web site server. The server verifies the scout and sends an SMS out to people registered warning them of the detection dogs. The site, he said, is able to send out 400 messages a second and to date, 36,000 people have registered to receive SMS alerts.

Since going live, registering to receive alerts at certain times of the day, say Friday and Saturday nights, and to be warned of sniffer dogs patrolling in particular areas of Sydney, has proved popular, Murphy said.

Murphy said it could take another week to 14 days for the upgrade to take place.

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