Spy vs. spy

The sirens started screaming shortly before midnight.

It sounded like an entire cavalcade of police cars, fire trucks and ambulances. Moments later, a helicopter started whirling. My husband grabbed his iPhone and pulled up a police-scanner app as I checked Twitter and Facebook to see if any nearby friends had news. Nothing.

I then checked my email and found two messages from Nextdoor, a social-networking site that connects neighbors through online forums. While most of the messages I'd previously read on it were casual—requests for electrician referrals, lost-pet notices, etc.—there were also crime bulletins and updates from the Sacramento Police Department. I'd yet to post to the site myself, however; for reasons I couldn't quite define, the network left me with a lingering sense of unease.

Now, as I scanned the emails—two users reported witnessing a car chase and stakeout just a few blocks away—I felt unsettled again. And not just because some major Cops-style action was happening within approximate shooting distance of my house.

All this watchfulness is a good thing, right? I had immediate access to information, after all. Then again, whether the reports were accurate remained to be seen, and as we double-checked the door locks, my concerns finally crystallized. All those posts warning users to beware of shady solicitors and other seemingly suspicious strangers? It's clear we're all peering out from behind our curtains, watching one other with obsessive, nosy care.

In an age when we're rightfully concerned about public-safety cameras on street corners and the National Security Agency combing through our emails, let's not forget just how much permission we've granted one another to observe and report.

Neighborly concern or spying? You decide.