In an age of surveillance, when over 200,000 cameras watch London ceaselessly and unmanned government spy planes patrol U.S. skies, the New Jersey ACLU is providing tools for citizens to engage in “reverse surveillance.”
The tool is a smartphone app, Police Tape, available for Android and currently in the app store approval process for iPhone. Developed as an open-source app by OpenWatch, the app “allows people to securely and discreetly record and store interactions with police,” according to the description on Google Play.
The “discreet” part? While recording audio, the app disappears from the screen, and while recording video, the screen goes black.
Recordings will be automatically and anonymously sent to the ACLU, which will store the video and audio in secure off-site servers. It is not clear if the footage is sent live, via the cloud, or if the uploading only happens later when the smartphone owner connects to WIFI or a computer.
(VentureBeat has reached out to the ACLU for comment and will update this when we learn more.)
Recording police has been an important legal tool since L.A. police were videotaped beating Rodney King in March 1991, but it is a controversial subject that has, on occasion, gotten citizens and journalists alike into legal trouble.
A Boston attorney who recorded police arresting a man was in turn arrested for the act of videoing. The courts have supported citizens’ rights to record in public places, however, and he recently won a $170,000 judgement for wrongful arrest.
And some have managed to use video evidence in an attempt to clear themselves of alleged crimes, such as a journalist who was recording Occupy Miami. The ACLU also cites the fact that in May of this year, a federal appeals court ruled that an Illinois law making it illegal to record police on duty was unconstitutional.
If the ACLU has its way, every citizen will have the right to securely, safely, and successfully record those who are serving and protecting.
Here’s the ACLU’s video promoting the new app: