Developers upgrade apps to monitor police encounters in real time

What’s happening? Video apps, including one developed by the American Civil Liberties Union, have been upgraded to allow users to record police officers and send real-time data to third parties, including lawyers. The Legal Equalizer app offers basic legal information and automatically contacts a user’s family, while the Mobile Justice app enables videos to be sent to legal teams via messaging. Similarly, the Cop Watch Video Recorder app sends video directly to the cloud. Some law enforcement agencies welcomed the upgrades, but others warned that videos could be edited or shared out of context.

Why does this matter? While huge efforts – such as movements to assess police funding and reform police emergency response – have been made to address the issue of police brutality in the US, progress to reverse systemic problems is slow and can’t ensure peoples’ personal safety in the meantime.

Apps, like those featured in the story above, have the potential to work as a personal security tool, as well as a means of holding officers and the institution of the police accountable for their actions. Where typically we might associate surveillance tech, like bodycams and drones, with governments, the democratisation of such technology – due to increased affordability and consumer access – is turning the tide and enfranchising the public.

We should note that the apps mentioned above have existed for several years, however recently added functionalities, such real-time video and access to legal aid and representation are features that could reinvent public interactions with law enforcement.

Lateral thought from Curation – When it comes to technological innovation targeted toward social causes, it’s small firms that are doing the heavy lifting.

Big Tech has repeatedly fallen on the wrong side of social issues when it comes to distribution and use of its technology. Palantir’s partnership with ICE, Microsoft’s work with the DEA and the repeated backlash Amazon received over its facial recognition technology are all notable examples.

Furthermore, there are also examples of Big Tech even taking a stance against apps similar to the ones detailed above when faced with political pressure. During 2019 pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, for example, citizens briefly had access to an app that mapped police blockades during protests. Within a week of its release, Apple banned the app with commentators noting it was likely pressure from Beijing which necessitated this.

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Sara Trett

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