The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey has released an Android app designed to be used by people who want to secretly record police activity without running the risk that the mobile device will be seized.
Called Police Tape, the free app allows the user to record video and audio discreetly. For one thing, the app disappears from a phone's screen when the recording begins. For another, it can send a copy of the recording to the ACLU-New Jersey for backup storage and analysis of potential civil liberties violations.
It is similar to the Stop and Frisk Watch app for Android released last month by the New York Civil Liberties Union, which stops filming when the device is shaken and alerts people when other app users in the area are recording police activity. Both apps also provide legal information about citizens' rights when dealing with police.
Police and citizens have realized how helpful video recorded from mobile phones can be for investigations into claims of police brutality and misconduct, particularly during protests and arrests -- Rodney King being the most prominent case. Police have been known to seize mobile devices used to record altercations and even arrest citizens doing the recording.
Several courts have affirmed the right of citizens to record police actions. A federal appeals court ordered the city of Boston to pay $170,000 to a man prosecuted under criminal wiretap laws for using his cell phone to record an arrest in a landmark case from last summer. Another appeals court struck down an Illinois law in May 2012 that had made it illegal for citizens to record police officers while on duty. And earlier this year the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice affirmed the constitutional rights of citizens to record the police in public.
"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."
An iOS version of Police Tape is expected later this summer.