The New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU-NJ) has recently released an Android application designed to protect the users rights when dealing with police officers called “Police Tape“. The application is designed to not only show the user their applicable rights in a number of possible scenarios, but can also be used to securely collect audio and video evidence.
Know Your Rights
One of the biggest threats to citizens when dealing with police is the simple fact that most don’t know their rights, and out of fear, will either blindly obey whatever demands are made of them or (worse) panic and lash out. Can the police enter your home without a warrant? Can you be searched when stopped on the street? These are some of the questions answered in Police Tape, which has all the information handily organized by the current situation:
The app is careful to only show the rights applicable to your current situation, as there are things which are lawful in some cases and unlawful in others. For example, you are not required to show your identification when a police officer stops you on the street, but you are legally obligated to show your identification and proof of insurance during a traffic stop.
It’s unlikely you’ll have time to consult this application while being patted down on the street or when you see flashing lights in your rear view mirror, so the user who is concerned with their personal liberties should consult this application in the comfort of their own home to read about their rights in a easy to understand format.
This function alone is invaluable, but is in fact not the primary use of this application.
In the event that you feel like your rights were violated while dealing with the police, the case will boil down to your word against the word of the officer; not a hopeful situation in the eyes of the court. That’s why it’s so important to collect audio and video evidence when you are being approached by the police, so any infraction can be documented if it becomes necessary to defend yourself in court.
Unfortunately, as past encounters have shown, the police aren’t thrilled with being recorded. In fact, there are a number of cases where victims claimed their cameras or phones were confiscated and destroyed, or at least the officer attempted to force the owner of the device to delete the incriminating files.
It is just this scenario that Police Tape is designed for. Once the user selects if they want to “Record Audio” or “Record Video”. Depending on your selection, the app will do two different things:
Audio: When you press the “Record Audio” button, the application instantly disappears and you are dropped back to the home screen. There is no way for casual observer to know the phone is currently recording audio, even if they take the phone away from you. When you want to stop recording, open the app up again, and you will be asked if you want to upload your recording or discard it.
Video: When you press the “Record Video” button, the phone’s screen turns black as if it has been switched off. To end recording, press the back button three times, after which you will be prompted to upload or discard the recording.
Once you confirm that you want to upload your recording, you are presented with a form where you can enter in pertinent information such as your contact information, location, and a description of the incident. Once your information is filled out, the video or audio will be uploaded to OpenWatch.net under the Creative-Commons-Attribution license, where it is safe from the hands of anyone wishing to destroy the evidence.
OpenWatch.net, the service that powers Police Tape, is dedicated to developing free and open source software for monitoring abuses of power wherever they arise.
Source code for the Android version of their software can be found on github.
Watching The Watchers
Like it or not, we are constantly being monitored. It’s therefore only fair that the individual is given the tools required to turn the tables on the surveillance state.
Applications like this not only educate the public on the legal rights, but give them the voice to speak out against the increasing injustices and abuses of power we’ve seen over the last few years. I would strongly suggest that any citizen of the United States with an Android smartphone download Police Tape in the Play Store.
Hopefully, you’ll never have to use it.