The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) declared victory back in May, when a Federal Appeals Court ruled that Illinois' eavesdropping statute does not apply to police performing their duties in public. This week, the ACLU of New Jersey announced it is releasing a new Police Tape app for smartphones. The app will allow users to discreetly record police officers and function as a resource for information on citizen rights. The app was developed for the ACLU-NJ by OpenWatch, a citizen media project that develops software for monitoring authority figures.
“This app provides an essential tool for police accountability,” said Deborah Jacobs, ACLU-NJ executive director. “Too often incidents of serious misconduct go unreported because citizens don’t feel that they will be believed. Here, the technology empowers citizens to place a check on police power directly.”
The Police Tape app disappears from the screen as soon as it begins recording either video or audio, making it difficult to determine that any type of recording is taking place. In addition, judging by the comments left in the Google Play store, the app makes it difficult to find and delete its recordings from the device it is used on. Users can also set the app to upload recordings to the ACLU-NJ for backup and "analysis of possible civil liberties violations." The Know Your Rights section of the app gives some brief tips on what citizen rights are when interacting with police in various settings, such as a car or on the street.
If the ACLU-NJ is sincere about checking all of the files uploaded, I suspect that they will discover, the way Apple has, that people enjoy sending pictures of genitalia in for review. That might be especially true given the ACLU's reputation in some parts of the U.S., not to mention the bold confrontation and questioning of authority that the Police Tape app represents.
The Police Tape app is now available for free through the Google Play store. An iOS version of the app is awaiting Apple's approval and is expected by the ACLU-NJ to be available later this summer.
Take a look at the video the ACLU-NJ has created to demonstrate the functionality of the app below: