Fighting the surveillance state with surveillance

OpenWatch dedicated to arming citizens with tools to document abuses of power

In a great post last week about LulzSec, fellow ITworld blogger Kevin Fogarty wrote about some fascinating revelations found in secret documents from the Arizona state police published by the hacker group. Of particular interest, Fogarty notes, is "how nervous those officials are about iPhone apps that could help citizens avoid speed traps, secretly record encounters with police officers or erase themselves after being confiscated by police." (Also see: Michigan State Police deny using cellphone data extraction devices in traffic stops) One document specifically discusses Cop Recorder, a free, open-source iPhone app created by an organization called OpenWatch, which describes itself as "a global participatory counter-surveillance project which uses cellular phones as a way of monitoring authority figures." Cop Recorder, as Fogarty explains, can be activated by the user with the press of a button. So let's say you see the blue lights behind you. You pull over, stop, hit the Cop Recorder icon and then hit "record." It begins chronicling the encounter via audio. Of course, you can do that with the "record" function on most smartphones, but what makes Cop Recorder ingenious is that the recording goes to a network server. So the police can't take your smartphone and erase the recording. Which, by the way, essentially is what the Arizona state police document wants officers to do. It advises police "making an arrest to search for iPhones or other smartphones and look specifically to see what apps are running on them," Fogarty writes. Hello, First and Fourth amendments: Are you still with us? Or have they been thrown off the Constitutional bus to make room for our palpable fear of terrorists? Sorry, I'm being cynical. I know full well that the authorities have only the safety of American citizens at heart, and I'm sure fellow passengers on a Michigan-bound flight from Florida were greatly relieved when TSA officials conducted an hour-long search of this wheelchair-bound, cancer-stricken 95-year-old woman, which culminated in them forcing her to remove her adult diaper. Whatever it takes to win the War on Terror! Back to Cop Recorder. I was disappointed when it seemed Cop Recorder was only available on the iPhone. But guess what? OpenWatch also provides Cop Recorder to Android users for free. (Sorry, BlackBerry users, you're still at the mercy of the Police State.) In addition, OpenWatch has an app called OpenWatch Recorder that also allows users to video encounters with police. I have a Droid, so I downloaded Cop Recorder 2 (the updated version) to check it out. Now, I'm not paranoid -- I've been stopped by the police only twice in the past 13 years. Once was for an actual driving infraction, and the other was for a bogus one. (Ironically, the very reasonable New York State police officer let me go without a ticket for the actual one, even warning me to be careful of deer crossing the mountainous road I was driving on, while the local cop -- not to mention the appeals judge -- couldn't have been bigger jerks about the bogus "illegal left turn" ticket I undeservedly got. Good thing I wasn't wearing an adult diaper.) Cop Recorder is very simple to use. The only problem with it is, after you hit the app icon to start the recording, you have to hit it again to halt the recording, and then hit another button to upload it to the OpenWatch server. That's probably why the Arizona state police are advised to check the smartphones of people they arrest (or merely stop?) -- to head off the uploading. OpenWatch has examples here of some recordings made using its apps. In the video below, OpenWatch lead developer Rich Jones explains the premise behind Cop Recorder and OpenWatch recorder, as well as operating instructions. Be safe out there. Better yet, be prepared.

About the OpenWatch Project from OpenWatch on Vimeo.

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