Smartphone App Allows Californians to Send Videos of Police Encounters to ACLU

The idea of a civil liberties organization collecting evidence of possible police misconduct is also raising eyebrows.

LOS ANGELES – The ACLU of California has unveiled a free smartphone app that allows users to send video of questionable police activity directly to the organization, protecting the recordings even if officers confiscate or try to tamper with the phones, the Los Angeles Times reports.

“We want to multiply the number of cameras that can be trained on police officers at any time,” Hector Villagra, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California, told the newspaper. “They need to know that anything they do could be seen by the entire world.”

But the idea of a civil liberties organization collecting evidence of possible police misconduct is also raising eyebrows.

Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School, said there were serious privacy concerns – not so much for the user, but the person being filmed. She called it a “great irony” that the ACLU, a long-time champion of individual privacy, is now encouraging people to take videos of others.

“Everyone wants to keep an eye on the police. But in these incidents, the police are interacting with an individual involved in the worst conduct of their lives,” she told the newspaper. “The ACLU needs to consider their privacy rights.”

Peter Bibring, a senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Southern California, said the organization wouldn’t publicize a video unless it showed a substantial issue that needed public attention.

“Obviously an interaction with a police officer isn’t someone’s brightest moment,” he told the newsaper. “But when you weigh that against the 1st Amendment right to film police, the 1st Amendment wins out.”

The national debate over policing and race prompted by protests in Ferguson, Mo., has been fueled in part by videos showing encounters – some deadly – between officers and civilians.

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