Want to record police? There's an app for that!

The New Jersey chapter of the ACLU has developed a new mobile app to stealthily record police. Called "Police Tape," this free application is very user-friendly: there are only three buttons. One button informs users about their rights when encountering police while the other buttons are for audio and video recording. But when the app is recording, the screen goes dark, so it looks like it's still turned off. In a promotional video, a stop motion Lady Liberty elaborates:

The recording on your phone will also go the ACLU-NJ for review of any civil liberties violations. Once it has been uploaded it's saved on an external server, so police cannot permanently delete the file.

Police Tape is developed by OpenWatch, an open source, "counter-surveillance project" that provides "documentary evidence of uses and abuses of power." OpenWatch technology can reverse what Michel Foucault called "descending individualism," or the concept that citizens and hoi polloi are more actively monitored than elites.

So far, the app has received generally positive reviews. Deborah Jacobs, executive director of the ACLU-NJ, praised the new app:

This app provides an essential tool for police accountability...Police often videotape civilians and civilians have a constitutionally protected right to videotape police. When people know they’re being watched, they tend to behave well.

Last month, the New York chapter of the ACLU (NYCLU) created Stop-and-Frisk Watch. This free app monitors and records cops who stop-and-frisk, a controversial New York City police policy that results in racial profiling. As Zoeth Flegenheimer reported in late June, stop-and-frisk overwhelmingly targets minorities:

685,724 people were stopped on the street in 2011, of which over 87 percent were black or Latino. Even more jarring, black and Hispanic males between age 14 and 24 made up 41.6 percent of stops, despite only accounting for 4.7 percent of the city’s population. And of these nearly 700,000 stops, only 780 guns were found and less than six percent were arrested.

Like the ACLU-NJ app, the NYCLU application contains a "Know Your Rights" section and allows users to surreptitiously record police activity. However, when Stop-and-Frisk Watch is activated, it also triggers an alert to warn nearby users that a police stop is happening. Both apps are only available on Android devices, but an iPhone version will be ready later this summer.

Alexander Shalom, policy counsel at the ACLU-NJ, notes how recording police can play a vital role for reform:

Historically, vivid images of police mistreating citizens have seared our public consciousness and in some cases spurred important changes. Photos and video are critical to ensuring police accountability and police should know that the eyes of the public are on them at all times.

Back in April 2012, Reason magazine published "7 Rules for Recording Police." Among the advice: be polite, know your local and state laws regarding police surveillance, and "don't point your camera like a gun." In addition, the Cato Institute currently tracks police malfeasance for its National Police Misconduct Reporting Project. Meanwhile, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee is working tirelessly to end racial profiling and restore civil rights in local communities.

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