Dispatches from the Creation Wars

How to Record Police Activity

Alexis Madrigal has some important links for sites that will help you record what cops are doing without them being able to destroy the evidence.

Which is what makes two new apps, CopRecorder and OpenWatch, and their Web component, OpenWatch.net, so interesting. They are the brainchildren of Rich Jones, a 23-year-old Boston University graduate who describes himself as “pretty much a hacker to the core.” Flush with cash and time from a few successful forays into the app market, nine months ago Jones decided to devote some of his time to developing what he calls “a global participatory counter-surveillance project which uses cellular phones as a way of monitoring authority figures.”


Here’s how they work:

CopRecorder can record audio without indicating that it’s doing so like the Voice Memos app does. It comes with a built-in uploader to OpenWatch, so that Jones can do “analysis” of the recording and scrub any personally identifying data before posting the audio. He said he receives between 50 and 100 submissions per day, with a really interesting encounter with an authority figure coming in about every day and a half…

Already, CopRecorder is in the hands of 50,000 users, who’ve just happened to stumble on the app one way or another. Jones hopes that they’ll upload their encounters with authority figures so that he can start to build a database of what citizens’ encounters are like in different places. Then, he figures, patterns will emerge and he’ll be able to point out to the world exactly where the powerful are abusing their authority.

We’re already seeing that pattern, of course — case after case after case of police lying on their reports and then getting caught by a cell phone or surveillance camera video they didn’t know about. What we need is to keep them from being able to seize and destroy the evidence when they do know about such recordings.