Joseph Gordon-Levitt Directs ACLU Clip Defending the Right to Video Police

The American Civil Liberties Union has collaborated on a short film called Know Your Rights created by actor and HitRecord director Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The film, which premiered at Sundance Film Festival, upholds the right of people to take iPhone videos of on-duty police officers.

At one point a caricature of Ben Franklin issues this decree:

… You see kids, even cops make mistakes, and it’s our job to keep an eye on them. And it’s easy with your modern technology and crazy iPhones…

Amazingly, the animation components were crowdsourced by up to 163 people who contributed images in the six days leading up to the festival.

Do You Have the Right to Record iPhone Video of Police Encounters?

Record Video of Police With iPhone

As iPhones and smartphones with video cameras are more widely adopted, clashes between citizens and police over video recording of police encounters have become increasingly common.

The question of whether it is appropriate, both legally and ethically, to record a police officer on duty remains a topic of debate.

Many cases involve a citizen recording a situation where police are publicly performing their duties, followed by an altercation between the camera-wielding citizen and the police officer who is uncomfortable being recorded.

Recent cases in the United States where citizens have gotten into trouble for recording police include:

  1. When a woman in Rochester, New York this June used her iPod to record a traffic stop while standing on her own property, the police officer making the stop arrested her and charged her with obstruction of governmental administration.
  2. When a Newark, New Jersey teenager recorded video of police coming to the aid of a man who collapsed on a bus, she was handcuffed by officers and charged with obstruction of justice.
  3. When Miami Beach Police surrounded an unarmed reckless driver this June and shot him to death, a citizen who recorded the incident had his cellphone allegedly smashed by police.
  4. When a speeding motorcyclist’s helmet camera captured a traffic stop by an undercover police officer brandishing a gun and failing to promptly identify himself, the Maryland State Police Department showed up at the man’s house days later, seizing several laptops and cameras and slapping him with a “wiretapping” charge that could have resulted in a 16 year prison sentence.

Is It Legal to Record Video of Police Encounters?

Legal Police Video Recording

Most charges against citizens who record police are eventually dropped since there is no law in the United States forbidding the recording of police encounters.

Just as a citizen has no right to privacy in a public setting, neither does a police officer doing their duty in public. As long as you are not interfering with the police, it is generally considered your First Amendment right to record incidents that occur in public.

Nevertheless, because smartphones with cameras are being adopted so rapidly, the technology is outpacing the law and police who seldom used to encounter citizens with video cameras are often taken aback and respond inappropriately.

Citizen as Watchdog: Recording Police is Good for Democracy

While many police are responsible public servants, citizens with smartphones can act as a check on police abuse and misconduct when it occurs.

UF Taser incident on iPhone

My first impression of this “citizen watchdog” phenomenon was in 2007 when a student at my alma mater was tasered at a question-and-answer session with John Kerry for behaving obnoxiously – albeit harmlessly.

Because an audience member recorded the incident and put it on YouTube, the public was able to see the confrontation, and judge for themselves whether the police acted inappropriately.

The iPhone did not have a video camera at the time, but in a post on the taser incident, I anticipated that an iPhone with a video camera could be a powerful tool for democracy because of its ability to record such incidents.

Is It Acceptable to Record Police With Your iPhone?

What do you think? Should the right of a citizen to record a police officer in public be preserved, or is it an obstruction of justice to record an officer on duty? Feel free to share in the comments.

Apple Blocks iPhone Video Camera App

The makers of iVidCam, a video recording app for the iPhone, contacted me about how Apple blocked their iPhone app ahead of the release of the iPhone 3G S, which features a video camera.

I regret not seeing this letter in my inbox earlier, but I think it´s worth sharing. Of course, take this with a grain of salt. Here it is:

This is our story of how we created a breakthrough video camera app for the iPhone only to have our hopes unfairly crushed by Apple.

In October, we started development on iVidCam, a video recording app for the iPhone. We invested a lot of capital and resources because we knew if we got a video camera app working, then it would be an instant hit. By January, we had finished the mp4 video encoding engine, but we needed a way to take multiple pictures per second to make video.

In February, our breakthrough came. Apple featured 25shot, an app that took 25 pictures in 5 seconds. The app used a custom camera view and took 5 screenshots per second. Our team studied the app and integrated the same function into iVidCam. We saw Apple’s featuring 25shot on the front page of the App Store as a signal to developers that this function was highlighted and encouraged by Apple.

In March, we finished development of iVidCam and even added wireless transfer and YouTube upload functions to the app. We were confident that this app would go #1 in the App Store. It had everything users wanted – a functional video camera app, mp4 encoding, wireless transfer, and YouTube upload of the recorded videos. We posted the app to iTunesConnect for Apple approval on March 27. Several days later we were shocked to discover Apple had rejected the app due to what they said was an “unpublished API.”

The same day we called the highest management person at Apple we knew, John Geleynse. We met him at the L.A. Tech Talk last year and he appeared to be the main iPhone evangelist. We thought that he could surely help us. On the phone, he was cordial and even agreed with us that talking to the regular reviewers was not going to do anything. He told us to email him an email stating our case with specifics and that he would forward it to Lead of the App Review Team. He assured us this was the way to go.

We emailed John Geleynse the same day. And this was the beginning of almost 2 months of being ignored, neglected and overlooked by Apple. Our emails to the Lead of the App Review Team were not being directly responded to. We asked for dialogue, and they gave us no personal replies but sent us form letters intead. Throughout this process, we were committed to working with Apple and not complaining publicly. We wanted to give every opportunity for Apple to address our concerns. Apple deeply disappointed us by ignoring us for months.

* March 31-May 18 correspondence with Director of Tech Evangelism, John Geleynse

By mid-May we had reached the point of exasperation. Our efforts to dialogue with Apple, their main iPhone evangelist, and the Lead of the App Review Team had led to nothing. We decided to try one more time with Apple, this time writing to the highest management possible, Steve Jobs. Here’s our May 18th letter to Steve Jobs that we asked several high management people at Apple to make sure it got to him:

* May 18 letter to Steve Jobs

We ended up getting a reply from Senior VP Phil Schiller, who ironically is going to be giving the keynote speech at June 8, 2009 WWDC where Apple could announce their own video camera app for the iPhone. Phil Schiller’s email and following correspondence ended up to be another big disappointment. Apple never took us seriously and refused to dialogue with us on the issues we brought up.

* May 18-27 correspondence with VP Phil Schiller

After two months of being unable to dialogue with Apple, we learned that perhaps we were just too insignificant in Apple’s eyes. Even though we had published hundreds of iPhone apps in the App Store, we were just one developer with a complaint in Apple’s eyes. We decided to draft a petition letter to end the unfair practice of rejecting custom camera view apps by Apple.

* Petition Letter from Photo App Developers

And finally, we’ve decided to share our story publicly. Maybe Apple will change if enough people let them know they don’t agree with how they’ve handled this situation. We can no longer do it by ourselves, we need your help.

* Please email Apple to let them know you’re unhappy about their actions ( and

In closing, this saga has seeded many doubts about the partnership that Apple has with developers like us.

1. Our company has been damaged and devastated.

We’ve spent the majority of our resources on iVidCam, only to see it unjustly rejected and Apple closed to dialogue. It’s frustrating especially since we were big fans of Apple and our company of 6 iphone developers has been committed to developing iPhone apps and working with Apple. We were counting on iVidCam sales. Now our company is struggling to break even and we’re at the unenviable place of deciding whether continuing to develop for the iPhone is sustainable or not.

2. It doesn’t feel good to be disrespected, neglected, and misled as a developer.

It’s been a stressful process because we’ve tried our best to communicate and reach out to Apple, only to be ignored and not treated as a true dialogue partner. If Apple treats developers like this now, what is the future of Apple-and-developers relations? In our case, we feel like Apple misled us, changed the rules arbitrarily, and punished us for trying to be good iPhone developers that work within the system. Ironically, our company has been committed 100% to developing for the non-jailbroken iPhone, only to be punished by Apple. And if Apple comes out with their own video camera app on June 8, 2009 at WWDC, it will be a sad day for us and also thousands of developers. The App Store is not a good system when the people in charge can do whatever they want with no accountability, even at the loss and damage of other parties.

3. What’s a published API?

One of the key issues in our story is what constitutes a “published API”? We’ve stated this over and over to Apple, but we believe that one of the strongest publishing mechanisms they have is the front page of the App Store. Apple appears to meticulously choose which apps to feature. The featured apps encourage users to buy them and developers to develop them. In this case, Apple featured 25shot in February and QuadCam in May, along with approving dozens of custom camera view apps in between. These featured apps appeared to millions of iPhone users on their desktop and also on their iPhones (AppStore). If these apps were using an “unpublished API”, then why were they featured multiple times on the front page of the App Store? And why were dozens of these apps approved? If Apple was wrong in featuring these apps, then they misled developers like us to spend tons of capital and resources in development. Regardless, by featuring these apps, Apple clearly implicitly published the use of these APIs to millions of users and developers. And by continuously featuring these apps, Apple strengthened their published position of the custom camera api usage.

Please share this story with your readers.

David and Susan Lee
GP Apps

Would You Send Video Messages on Your iPhone?

With everyone wondering what Apple will reveal about the next-generation iPhone at the Worldwide Developers Conference on Monday, there is debate over whether the new iPhone will feature some sort of video messaging, with perhaps a video camera lens on the face of the iPhone.

Apple may be working on video messaging, giving users the ability to send short clips to each other. Think YouTube, delivered.

Scott Moritz

An iPhone with video messaging capability might have a lens on the face, and use the 3G chipset to send the video.

Some blogs question the usefulness of such a feature, but I can think of situations where people would like to send video clips. Here are three:

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UF Taser Incident & Why iPhone Needs a Video Camera

UF Taser incident on iPhone

By now, many of you have heard of Andrew Meyer, the University of Florida student who was shocked with a Taser by police at a UF question-and-answer session with Senator John Kerry. My intention is not to discuss whether the officers crossed the line or not, but to point out the power of the Internet video revolution (i.e. YouTube) in spreading a story like this, and to question why Apple is not participating in it with the iPhone.

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