ACLU App Fights Bad Cops

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A quick search on YouTube using terms like “police misconduct,”  “illegal police stops,” “police unlawfully detain,” etc. proves one thing: Cellphone technology has changed the way police and the public interact and provides citizens valuable tools to protect liberties.

Many times, this new ability to record police has been unwelcome by officers, some of whom have confiscated devices and attempted to remove recordings of encounters with the citizenry. And Americans have been conditioned to feel that they should cede to the requests of authority figures without question.

New Jersey’s branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, however, wants to make it easier for Americans to know their rights in the event that they must interact with law enforcement while also being able to discreetly record the encounter. With the help of mobile phone technology, the civil rights advocacy organization has released a new app called Police Tape.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a85JsJZsdIM&w=560&h=315]

The Police Tape app, which is currently available for Android phones and will soon be released for iPhones, has three functions: a “Know Your Rights” button that gives users an overview of their legal rights after they indicate whether they are interacting with police on the street, in a car and in their home, as well as advising them what to do if they are certain they’ll be arrested; a discreet audio-recording function; and a discreet video-recording function. With the help of the app, users are able to record police interactions without the screen of their mobile device indicating they are doing so. The phone also then saves the information in a hidden location that makes it harder for police to find and delete if they confiscate the device.

“This app provides an essential tool for police accountability,” said Deborah Jacobs, executive director of the ACLU of New Jersey.

Incidents sent to the ACLU via the app get reviewed and also saved to an external server.

The app developer, OpenWatch, which is offering the product to users free of charge, offers this on its website:

The surveillance state has arrived and it is here to stay. The benefit to society in terms of security and justice is too great for it to ever go away. There is a problem, however, and the problem is not the technology. The problem is the lopsided distribution of who is in control of that technology. Surveillance technology is currently only in the hands of those who are already in power, which means it cannot be used to combat the largest problem facing modern society: abuse of power.

So the question remains: “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” – roughly, Who watches the watchers?

This is where OpenWatch comes in. The recent ubiquity of mobile telephones with media recording capabilities and the ability to run any software the users chooses gives the public a very powerful tool. Now, we are all equipped to become opportunistic journalists. Whenever any of us come in contact with power being used or abused, we can capture it and make it become part of the public record. If we seek truth and justice, we will be able to appeal to documentary evidence, not just our word against theirs. Ideally, this will mean less corruption, more open government and a more transparent society.

The New York ACLU released a similar app last month called “Stop and Frisk Watch” to encourage those in the city subjected to a random stop and frisk to record the encounter.

The increasing interest in citizens keeping tabs on law enforcement comes on the heels of a number of high-profile stories of police misconduct.

Personal Liberty

Sam Rolley

Sam Rolley began a career in journalism working for a small town newspaper while seeking a B.A. in English. After covering community news and politics, Rolley took a position at Personal Liberty Media Group where could better hone his focus on his true passions: national politics and liberty issues. In his daily columns and reports, Rolley works to help readers understand which lies are perpetuated by the mainstream media and to stay on top of issues ignored by more conventional media outlets.

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