ILNews

Technology Untangled: Smartphone app allows discreet recording

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

technology-bourI caught a story in the news recently about a smartphone application intended to discreetly record citizen encounters with the police. The application was being touted by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey. I offer no legal or political opinions here concerning the practice of recording the police while they are doing their jobs. My curiosity arose from an interest in the technology that makes this possible. I simply wanted to investigate how it worked. Today’s review focuses on the technology of smartphone recording apps.

Specifically, the Android application in question is “Police Tape” from ACLU-NJ. It is a free download from the Google Play Store. At first glance, it appeared to be nothing more than a repackaging of the video camcorder app that came with my phone. The audio recorder feature looked to be about the same as many of the other free recorder apps available for download. So how is Police Tape any different or better than other similar apps? There are several distinctions.

First, since this application comes via the ACLU, all the political and legal overtones come along with the technology. The mission is clearly one of policing the police using what has been described as “reverse surveillance” technology. The opening screen of the app shows just three buttons: record audio, record video and know your rights. The latter provides short instructions about how to handle different encounters with the police. Note that this app and the accompanying information are specifically tailored for New Jersey law. I do not know any details concerning the legality of secretly recording the police, or anyone else, in Indiana.

Second, the recordings are designed to take place in the background so the police won’t easily notice them. Pressing the audio record button flashes a quick “recording started” notification, then the phone display reverts to a normal-looking mode; all the while, the recording continues to roll. To stop it, you have to specifically navigate back to the application launch icon and press it. For video, pressing the record button gives an audible beep and then the screen is supposed to go black, as if the phone is sleeping. To stop the recording, you either press the back button three times or the home key once. Again, there is a beep, which doesn’t seem very secretive to me. Curiously, on my Motorola Droid 2 the screen did not go to black, but continued to show the scene being recorded. That’s not secretive at all. I did find and download a virtually identical sister application called OpenWatch Recorder that did properly black out the screen. OpenWatch, in fact, did the development work for the ACLU-NJ app.

Third, the tech twist that takes this application beyond a standard audio or video recording app is its designed-in ability to anonymously upload the audio or video stream directly to a watchdog organization. At the conclusion of a recording, a popup screen offers the option to upload for examination and archiving by ACLU-NJ. You can do this immediately or wait until later. You also have the option to type in additional information about the uploaded incident. Clips of significance will be cleaned up, enhanced and edited to remove any names or identifying info, and then may show up on the OpenWatch website.

Here are some other technical details about making recordings. I found that an incoming or outgoing call will suspend the audio recording, but it continues again after you hang up. The phone conversation is not recorded. This means that you cannot use this application to secretly record phone calls. Negotiating a call while in the middle of recording a video simply ends that recording; it does not resume. One piece I read suggested that the recordings were secretly stored on your phone in such a way that made it more difficult for an officer to find the files and delete them. I disagree. They are easily found in a folder on the external memory card called “Recordings.”

The audio recording fidelity is not very good. There are other audio recorder apps that will record in higher quality formats and at better sample rates. I expect the low fidelity was a choice made to maximize available record time. But in my opinion, if you are going to all the trouble to capture some important recording, you ought to capture the sound at the best quality your recording device will allow. The audio that is recorded during a video recording sounds much better. The video it captured on my phone is also good, recording at 29 frames per second at a 720 X 480 resolution.

Police Tape is currently available only for Android. An iPhone app is coming soon. OpenWatch works with both platforms. You can learn more at www.aclu-nj.org and www.openwatch.net.•

__________

Stephen Bour (bourtech@iquest.net) is an engineer and legal technology consultant in Indianapolis. His company, the Alliance for Litigation Support Inc., includes Bour Technical Services and Alliance Court Reporting. Areas of service include legal videography, tape analysis, document scanning to CD and courtroom presentation support. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author.

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

ADVERTISEMENT