CopWatch and OpenWatch: covert recording apps for interactions with authority figures

OpenWatch is a project that publishes open/free apps for Android and iOS; the apps (called "OpenWatch Recorder" and "CopRecorder") covertly record audio and, at your direction, transmits it to the OpenWatch site. There, it is reviewed for significance, stripped of personal information, and published. It also has a video mode. The OpenWatch site looks for regional patterns in authority-figure interactions -- for example, whether a county operates its drunk-driving checkpoints in an illegal fashion.

To me, something like OpenWatch could help solve a major problem for investigative reporting in an age when newsrooms are shrinking. We've still got plenty of people who can bulldog an issue once it's been flagged, but there are fewer and fewer reporters with deep sourcing in a community, fewer and fewer reporters who have the time to look into a bunch of different things knowing that only one out of a hundred might turn into a big investigation. Perhaps providing better conduits for citizens to flag their own problems can drive down the cost of hard-hitting journalism and be part of the solution for keeping governments honest.

At first, the app did not have grand aspirations. Jones built it for some friends who'd gotten into some trouble with the law and who could have been aided by a recording of their interaction with law enforcement. But Jones' worldview began to seep into the project. Informed by Julian Assange's conception of "scientific journalism," Jones wanted to start collecting datapoints at the interface of citizens and authority figures.

"It's a new kind of journalism. When people think citizen media, right now they think amateur journalism ... I don't think that's revolutionary," Jones told me. "I don't think that's what the '90s cyberutopianists were dreaming of. I think the real value of citizen media will be collecting data."

Policing the Police: The Apps That Let You Spy on the Cops (The Atlantic)


(Thanks, Rich!)