Don’t “Shoot!”: Recording Police Behavior Doesn’t Qualify for First Amendment Protections (At Least in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania)

cldcBy Samuel Daheim

Our constitutional right to the freedom of expression under the First Amendment reaches a broad spectrum of wide-ranging activities. From flag burning to expenditures on campaigns for elected governmental office, the First Amendment protections of expression reach the lives of all U.S. citizens. However, on February 19th of this year, the federal district court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania held that First Amendment protections of expression do not cover observing and recording police activity in a public forum where such observations and recordings are not accompanied by criticism or challenge to police conduct. Continue reading

“Mobile Justice”? or Risky Vigilante Journalism?

camera+phone By Andrew H. Fuller

The American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) Oregon chapter and four other state chapters offer a smartphone app called Mobile Justice, which allows users to easily record interactions with the police. In addition to recording and transmitting footage, the app has a “Witness” button that sends out a user’s location to alert other Mobile Justice users in the area when they have been approached by the police. Once other Mobile Justice users have a user’s location, they can find that user and record their interaction with the police.

While this sort of Sousveillance activity is not unheard of—indeed, there are other apps that provide smartphone users with similar features—there are some serious concerns about these apps. Perhaps the most obvious concern is that a police officer may think that a user pulling out their phone to record is reaching for a weapon. In response to this concern, the ACLU of Oregon’s website for Mobile Justice has a portion of the page warning users on how to safely use the app. Continue reading

FBI Created Fake Seattle Times News Story in Scheme to Implant Spyware on Bomb-Threat Suspect’s Computer

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 4.29.11 PMBy Juliya Ziskina

Should the FBI be permitted to impersonate the news media in order to nab criminals?

That is the question being raised after an American Civil Liberties Union analyst reviewed documents showing that the FBI created a fictitious online news story in 2007 under the guise of The Seattle Times. The FBI hoped that the story would entice a teen bomb-threat suspect to click on the link, and as a result implant spyware (known as CIPAV software) on his computer.

The tactic worked––the story appeared in the suspect’s MySpace feed, which lead to the arrest and conviction of a 15-year-old who had been sending bomb threats to Timberline High School in Lacey, Washington. However, The Seattle Times was unaware that the FBI created the counterfeit URL, or that it was using the Times’ brand to implant spyware on the suspect’s computer. Continue reading