Secretly Monitor Cop Stops With New ACLU App

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey is unveiling an Android app allowing citizens to secretly record audio and video of police stops, and have the footage sent to the group’s servers for review.

“This app provides an essential tool for police accountability,” ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs said in a statement. “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 is among a growing number of apps aimed at empowering citizens in their encounters with police activity. The New York chapter of the ACLU released a similar app last month, and others enable protesters to notify family, friends and attorneys if they’ve been arrested.

Its development comes two weeks after the death of Rodney King, whose 1991 video-taped beating at the hands of Los Angeles police seemingly ushered in new role of the citizen watchdog. Now two decades later, a wide swath of the public is armed with tiny recording devices — their mobile phones, and the ACLU is seeking to make it as easy as ever to capture the authorities with video or audio — though police officers never seem to be fans of the practice.

The latest app allows users to press a button on their Android device and it will secretly record video or audio, although the phone won’t look like it’s in recording mode. The recordings can be uploaded to the New Jersey affiliate’s servers, or simply stored on the phone in a non-obvious file system location.

The iPhone version is awaiting approval from Apple.

Alex Shalom, policy counsel for the New Jersey affiliate, said in a telephone interview that though the app is intended for residents of the Garden State, if the group believes somebody outside of New Jersey’s rights were violated, the group would send the footage to the appropriate ACLU affiliate for review.

“We think taping police is a good accountability tool,” he said. “We’re bringing it into the 21st Century.”

At least in this case, the feds don’t disagree with the ACLU. In May, the Justice Department said the public had a constitutional right to record the police in public.