Smartphones allow people to check email, Facebook and Twitter accounts, and now keep an eye on the police -- at least in New Jersey.
The New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU-NJ) has just released “Police Tape,” an Android phone app that allows people to securely and discreetly record and store their interactions with police, as well as provide legal information about citizens’ rights when interacting with law officers.
"This app provides an essential tool for police accountability,” ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs said in a statement to Wired.com. “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.”
Almost all cell phones come with video cameras, but Police Tape has a "stealth mode" that makes the app disappear from the screen once the recording starts, to minimize the chances the police might squelch the recording.
There is also a mode for audio recording, a link to a page explaining a citizen's legal rights, and a way to send the video directly to the ACLU for backup storage and analysis of possible civil liberties violations, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“Police often videotape civilians and civilians have a constitutionally protected right to videotape police,” Alexander Shalom, ACLU New Jersey’s policy counsel, told the New Jersey Star-Ledger.
The app is currently only good in New Jersey, where it is legal to tape police encounters, but other states may have different laws.
It is similar to a Stop-and-Frisk Watch available in New York, which is coming under fire from officials there who fear the apps will tip off criminals to stop-and-frisk locations, which New York police credit for a lower crime rate and higher gun seizures, according to the New York Daily News.
So far, the apprehensive app is only available on Android phones, but an iPhone version is awaiting approval from Apple.