Police Tape: an ACLU mobile app to secretly record the police

Police Tape is an Android app from the American Civil Liberties Union that is designed to allow citizens to covertly record the police. When activated, it hides itself from casual inspection, and it has a mode that causes it to send its recording to an ACLU-operated server, protecting against police seizure and deletion.

Citizens can hold police accountable in the palms of their hands with "Police Tape," a smartphone application from the ACLU of New Jersey that allows people to securely and discreetly record and store interactions with police, as well as provide legal information about citizens' rights when interacting with the police. Thanks to the generosity of app developer OpenWatch, the ACLU-NJ is providing Police Tape to the public free of charge.

The ACLU says that an iPhone version is "coming soon," though it remains to be seen whether something so potentially controversial passes muster with the App Store.

Police Tape


  1. Aren’t there laws in some states that prohibit recordings like these unless both parties are aware they’re being recorded?

    If so, I hope this app makes it clear that it’s illegal to use it covertly in all the applicable states.  Although, I really think all those states should amend their laws to say that officers of the law, while they are performing their duties, can legally be recorded covertly.

    I would love to hear from police officers who think they shouldn’t be recorded, and get their reasoning.

    1.  Don’t those laws only apply in private situations? ie: Completely inapplicable to the police officer being recorded as they interact with someone out in the open.

  2. shutz-
    No. In the U.S., you don’t need anyone’s permission to record in public. They’re in public view (and police are doing a public duty) and thereby forfeit any right to privacy. You might be referring to two-party consent or wiretapping laws, which some police have tried to use against people who photograph or videotape them. These cases are almost always dismissed (with limited exceptions) because, as mentioned above, no one has any expectation of privacy when they’re in public. Taping people (any and all people, including public servants, private citizens and children) in public is a protected right.

    1. Then for all intents and purposes Americans do not have a complete right to privacy because they have to go to work, visit the doctor, shop for groceries, etc. so it is impossible to live in our society and not spend a significant amount of time in the public space.  

      1. Yes, that’s completely accurate. 
        Think about it: if you had a right to privacy while you were in public, consider how much online content would be illegal. Photojournalism, much of broadcast journalism, like 1/3 of all Youtube videos, People of Walmart. No, you only have a true right to privacy within your own home or in places where you have a reasonable expectation of privacy: doctor’s office, bathroom, locker room.

  3. Gotta love the privacy double-standard… governments/police go surveillance happy on their citizens, but then when we want to point the recording/monitoring devices back at them, they raise a bigger fuss than we do.

    The watchmen can’t stand being watched.

    1. Which makes me think, they should definitely rename this app “Dr. Manhattan”.

      1. This doesn’t seem as useful because a) it shows a recording image on the screen and b) it only stores and uploads after you’ve finished recording. All a bad cop has to do is notice the recording image and confiscate your phone, and boom, there goes your evidence.

        1. They can’t get rid from the recording line, IIRC, because it’s controlled by the OS.

          However, I guess they could store it in chunks in iCloud.

  4. Despite what Dani4a says, there is no federal law ensuring a right to record, and state’s laws would then apply. It is illegal in Oregon to record someone without their knowledge (although to be fair, that’s not the same thing as *permission*), and people are arrested for it (despite the ironic fact that the law was created to prohibit cops from doing it).

      1. That’s not a Supreme Court ruling. It is  the ” US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit”.

        1. The Supreme Court is the top federal appellate court. The one with this ruling was the top level of this same federal appellate system. Although the wording was incorrect, they’re practically the same thing. The First Circuit Court of Appeals is the top of the federal judicial chain if the Supreme Court will not hear a case, and its ruling can pretty much only be overturned by the Supreme Court.


          1. That really makes no sense. You’re saying that the First Circuit becomes the Supreme Court if the Supreme Court doesn’t hear a case. No it’s doesn’t. It’s the First Circuit. It doesn’t become a replacement for the Supreme Court if they refuse to hear it. It becomes simply a ruling for the First Circuit. It doesn’t, for example, then become a national precedent, but one that only applies to the jurisdiction of the First Circuit.

      2. At that link — which only talks about recording *telephone* conversations, not other conversations:

        “Twelve states currently require that all parties consent to the recording. These states are:

        Illinois (debated)
        Montana (requires notification only)
        New Hampshire

        So…. huh?

        Furthermore, it’s simply and plainly false to say “there is no such law in Oregon”. There sure is:

        ORS 165.540 Obtaining contents of communications

        (1) Except as otherwise provided in ORS 133.724 (Order for interception of communications) or 133.726 (Interception of oral communication without order) or subsections (2) to (7) of this section, a person may not:
        Obtain or attempt to obtain the whole or any part of a conversation by means of any device, contrivance, machine or apparatus, whether electrical, mechanical, manual or otherwise, if not all participants in the conversation are specifically informed that their conversation is being obtained.


        So. And.

        1. You left out this part.
          “Obtain or attempt to obtain the whole or any part of a telecommunication or a radio communication to which the person is not a participant”.

          This law is in regards to taping phone lines or radio communication other wise conversation where the person has an expectation of privacy, and the person recording it is not part of the conversation. A cop or any other person walks up to me and starts a conversation with me I have every right to recored this interaction.

          1. No, that SUBSECTION (1a) of the law is about radio/telephone communication. The other subsections do NOT all make that specification.

  5. TIme for little brothers and sisters to stand up to big brother bullies and Constitutional violaters! Don’t forget, you’ll still get harassed and cuffed, recording devices confiscated and destroyed even though it is not against the law to tape law efforcement in public.

    1.  And then you sue appropriate governing agency with a jury trial.  This has happened more than once already and they are starting to learn.

      1. Hopefully you can either afford your own lawyer, or convince one you are likely to win damages, or the ACLU gives a damn about your case (and doesn’t run out of their own lawyers).

      2. Except the cops that actually  do the abuse never pay the damages.  The bill is always sent to the schmuck taxpayers who are abused.    Figure that one out.  

        This abuse could be ended tomorrow and the bad weeds culled from the force if the settlements came out of the pocket of the police unions or their pension funds and never to be paid by taxpayers.

        1. There’ll be an administrative review. Maybe the officer will even be placed on paid leave (aka extra vacation). Then, the administrative review will find that cops 1, civs 0, and the above-the-law lawman can go back to false arrests and goodness knows what else.

  6. Biggest problem with it I see is that it doesn’t upload in realtime.  You need something like LiveStream or Qik.  (Anybody know of any others?)

      1. Eye-Fi requires you to have a computer within WiFi range. Probably close enough to be confiscated along with your camera.

  7. If you haven’t done anything wrong, then you have nothing to worry about, right?

    What’s good for the goose… 

    1. Anyone can get arrested for anything, it happens all the time. Also, some police take people “into custody” but the citizen may not know they’ve been “arrested” or are technically “in custody”. Police blur these distinctions in their favor to extract information. If the citizen doesn’t actually hear that they’ve been arrested or they aren’t officially in custody, they sing like a canary. 

      It’s the police’s job to charge you with something…”Anything you say or do can and will be held against you in a court of law.” Not “Anything you say or do can and will be used in a court of law to prove your innocence”. 

      What bothers me is the issue of “Arrest” and why that is public record, even if you were found to have done nothing wrong. Some job applications ask “Have you ever been arrested”? That question should be illegal, it has nothing to do with guilt. 

      1. Yes, Palomino, you are correct.  The same has bitten me on the ass in the past, and I am not the only one.  An “arrest record” NEVER goes away.  Convictions?  Who cares?  The charges may have been summarily dismissed as an obvious vendetta on the part of the police, but any judge will see that you were arrested for this.  The judge will not care about the outcome of the case or the fact that the DA laughed in disgust as he tore up the warrant. He does not know that. To him, you are guilty of it by virtue of being arrested for it, no matter what, and that will color his judgement on the current case. grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

        1. Only recently on BBC Radio 4 there was an excellent programme about racism in police force and how they treated their own people which had a non-white background. (I think it was Yorkshire Police force) An asian (i.e. indian subcontinent) police constable was under suspicion of corruption, was arrested 17 times in total, and his house searched multiple times, with tens of police officers in action, in the end he was found not guilty on all accounts but the Police force still fired him for misconduct and the chief’s reasoning was “if he was arrested for 17 times, even though the courts have found him not guilty, he was upto something and the Police must held themselves into account higher than a court” – which is an utter travesty and shameless racism. I hope all of these cases come to public view and cause scandals eventually. (File on Four, Police Racism, 5th June 2012, ( http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/radio4/fileon4/fileon4_20120605-2050a.mp3 )) .

        2.  Isn’t it the job of a defense attorney to point that kind of thing out and make sure it’s placed into context?

  8. Constitutional considerations aside, how does this app keep you from being arrested (or worse) and your phone smashed when police see you pointing it at them while they are beating someone to death?  Do people really think that the police are going to grab your phone, click a few clicks and then say “It’s okay, I don’t see anything”?  Stupid!  Beyond stupid, it’s moronic. Misplaced, unworkable idiocy?  Yeah, there’s an app for that.

    Edit: in the interest of full disclosure, I am a former US Marine, decorated in combat. I love my country. I HATE the cops, of which there are sooooo many that nobody in their right mind can deny that we live in a police state. Enough is enough.

    1. I suspect this app only does audio, in which case if you’re smooth enough they might not even notice is you, or at least they won’t notice you had just started the app. 

      1.  I would hope that such an app stores a copy of the file in the cloud, but I have no idea if that is the case.

  9. “…something so potentially controversial passes muster with the App Store.”

    I once again find it very telling that Apple’s arbitrary App Store policies find things like this “Controversial….” I’m sure they just don’t want to be badgered by state and federal complaints later on. 

      1. It’s not a fallacy to make an inference based on Apple’s past risk-averse decisions. Look, I’m pro-app, but I don’t think there’s any question that it’s controversial.  Just by the nature of it possibly being illegal in some states and, once its in the App Store, there’s no real way to restrict it to persons in those states.

        But I thinks what’s really going to doom it is that it conceals its activation.  One can think of a whole range of nefarious uses: use it to record 2 parties by leaving it on a desk;  load it onto someone else’s phone (let’s say you have their Apple ID) and record them on their own phone. 

        It turns a friendly iPhone into a covert bugging device.  Both from a PR and legal viewpoint, why would Apple take this risk?  They’ll just can it.

    1. Hey, author of the original OpenWatch Cop Recorder iOS app here. Link-> http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/cop-recorder!/id433040863?mt=8 The ACLU-NJ app is most likely going to be approved because it is a fork of the original open source app https://github.com/chrisballinger/Cop-Recorder-iOS) with additional civil rights information. The reason it is delayed is because the seller’s account hasn’t been set up yet. 

      By the way, the original app was covered on Boing Boing about a year ago:  http://boingboing.net/2011/06/24/copwatch-and-openwat.html

  10. The worst/saddest part of this story to me is that there actually is a market and a need for an app like this in a democracy.

  11. I would love to hear recordings of NYPD “stop and frisk” interactions with citizens.  First hand accounts sound terrible, and recordings could help illustrate the big problems to those in the “stop+frisk reduces crime” camp.

  12. I believe that I should be able to record anything within my lisening distance as well photograph anythig within my viewing sight. The police believe that too. What the police want is a special right to do it and deny others from doing at. This attitude is an indication that we live in a police state: the police own everything and everyone while citizens are to pay taxes and obey polce what every told in order to preserve “Public Safety.”

  13. Trust me, there is no faster way to piss off a police officer than to inform him that he’s being recorded.

    I used to carry around a mini-cassette recorder for just that reason. 

  14. the world is tipping into a global depression.   “Record-a-cop” apps are not what is needed.  Better you arm yourselves because that will be the only useful response to what cops are about to fully degenerate into.

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