A Civil Rights Swiss Army Knife in your Phone

Last week I wrote about Apps for driving, and this week I would like to continue the theme, but with Apps that aim to protect the user from police harassment.

The first I would like to look at is called Stop and Frisk Watch, and has been developed with the help of the non-profit organization Make The Road New York. The App is designed so that the user can record both audio and video of police interactions in the community (with the screen black so that evidence is less likely to be destroyed), is alerted when other users are doing the same in the area, and has a direct reporting system so that any interaction can be reported in real time. Just shake the phone and the video is sent directly to a lawyer. It also contains a document that outlines an individual’s rights while recording the police in action.

Filming Police Brutality

Filming Police Brutality

The App is downloadable here through the New York Civil Liberties Union website.

The groups that are advocating the use of such Apps tend to be minority groups, who believe that they are treated differently from other members of society due to their race or religion, and hope that recording the police at work might help to address this issue. If we think back a few years to the Rodney King case in LA in 1991 we can see that video technology has held a place in these types of issues for some time. We should also remember that riots were triggered in which 53 people were killed when the police were acquitted and so this is not a technology without implications for all sides. If you watch the video of the beating though you can see why the acquittal caused so much anger.

UPDATE: I just want to clarify that 2 officers were later charged with civil rights violations related to the Rodney King case mentioned in the article and found guilty and imprisoned. Also readers should be aware that the use of these Apps to film the police may not be legal in certain states, a problem that I touched upon last week regarding radar tracking equipment in cars.

Also in New York the Sikh Coalition is making an App available called FlyRights. This App allows the user to file complaints about air travel discrimination in real time and directly to the correct authorities. If a user feels they have been profiled or are being searched because they are wearing religious dress such as a turban or veil they can report discrimination on the grounds of religion or race.

There are many other Apps like this, and supporters argue that they could become the base as a new civil rights movement, after all the phone is one of the few things that most people carry everywhere they go. A Swiss army knife for civil rights right there in your pocket for some, a dangerous tool for others, once more we are in a debatable position. In many states in the US it is illegal to film the police and action is taken against those who do, so an App that allows someone to do it without being noticed may be looked upon with suspicion.

6 thoughts on “A Civil Rights Swiss Army Knife in your Phone

  1. that sounds like an awesome app. I myself don’t think i would ever be in a situation where this would go on but that doesn’t mean I might not be witness to it. With all the reports these days of police brutality I am glad this app is out there.

      • I hope that this app can help since its only a shake it takes to send the interaction document to your lawyer. However, in my personal opinion, I believe some arrangements inside the app itself should be made that the video or audio interaction should be sent directly to the authority undertaking the deptt.
        This would not only help the authorities to take action against the accused immediately but would also save a considerable amount of time taken to process the legal activities.

  2. I expect that it would look a bit suspicious when you are holding the phone straight at the police. With all of the digital technology that is out there these days the police are being watched from all angles.

    In relation to the app that lodges civil rights complaints, you will also need someone at the other end that can assess and act on each of the complaints.

    • The complaints go directly to a lawyer, I presume there are interested parties that pay their fees. Regarding filming the police if the phone screen is blank I think you could hold it in a way that might not be noticed. I am not saying you should try though.

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