Stealth-Record the Police With Free App from ACLU-NJ
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Jersey has introduced an app for Android smartphones that makes it possible for anyone to secretly videotape police officers who approach them in a car, on the street, at home, or to make an arrest. The app is available to the public for free “thanks to the generosity of app developer OpenWatch,” ACLU-NJ writes in a press release.
Eunice Lee writes for The Star-Ledger on nj.com, that the app, called Police Tape, opens to a screen with three buttons: for video recording, audio recording, and a “know your rights” tutorial. When a person starts to video record, the phone’s screen goes black, and appears to be turned off. And when a person begins an audio recording, the app minimizes and disappears.
Lee explains how the app works as a stealth device:
Recordings are protected from erasure because it’s not readily apparent how to delete without going through a multi-step process. Incidents sent to the ACLU via the app get reviewed and also saved to an external server.
According to Douglas Stanglin in USA Today, the ACLU said it released the app just before the July 4th holiday “because of the frequency of altercations between citizens and ‘seasonal police’ at the shore.” The Star-Ledger’s Lee quotes ACLU New Jersey Executive Director Deborah Jacobs as saying the app provides an essential tool for police accountability. The app’s release follows some high profile cases of police and individuals clashing over people’s recording of officers, Lee reports. “It also speaks to the notion that, anywhere, any time — whether it’s by a police department’s security camera or a motorist’s cell phone — everyone can be recorded,” she notes.
Alexander Shalom, ACLU New Jersey’s policy counsel, told Lee that police have “hassled and even arrested” people after individuals have recorded police officers in public places, and at times police have taken the phones away and deleted recordings. “Police often videotape civilians and civilians have a constitutionally protected right to videotape police,” Shalom said. “When people know they’re being watched, they tend to behave well.”
Lee reports that Chris Tyminski, president of Policeman’s Benevolent Association Local 183 (which represents police officers in NJ’s Essex County) said an app like this one can “blindside” an officer, but added that “We have nothing to hide.”
Shalom told Lee that most law enforcement officers need not worry about the app: “Police officers who break the rules, who don’t behave, are the exception not the rule,” he said. “It’s only the minority of officers who are flouting the rules who should be concerned about the app.”
New Jersey is the second state to have a stealth app for smartphones, Lee writes. The New York Civil Liberties Union introduced a similar one in June called “Stop and Frisk Watch,” which is available in English and Spanish, and which, Stanglin writes, is designed to “hold the NYPD accountable for unlawful stop-and-frisk encounters and other police misconduct.”
The NJ Android app is free to download at aclu-nj.org/app. The ACLU NJ press release says that an iPhone version awaiting approval from Apple will be available later this summer in the App Store to audio-record encounters with police.
Here is an ACLU video about the New Jersey app:
Image by American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, used under Fair Use: Reporting.