These days it is all too common for news to emerge of police brutality or wrongdoing. All over the world, as well as in the US, having a way to verify photos or video footage is of absolute importance in moments of crisis. Furthermore, Often people don’t want to just spread their videos on YouTube but want also want them to be accepted as evidence in a court case.
In order for that to happen, it is vital to prove that what is seen can be believed and has not been tampered with in any way. Step in Guardian Project, who have developed an app that runs quietly in the background on any smartphone device: ready to create digital verification of all the details needed to make both photos and videos stand up in a court of law.
The name of this new verification app is ProofMode and at the moment it is still in the Beta development stages of production. ProofMode has been designed with both activists and truth seekers in mind and has been created so that anybody’s footage can effectively be used as evidence. The beauty of the app is that it will verify digital media whether the person taking it was purposefully filming or accidentally captured footage of the events in question.
Building on an existing concept
This isn’t the first time that Guardian Project has made this type of software. However, the organization’s past effort was aimed directly at journalists and the press. That predecessor was called CameraV, and although the media verification app serves its purpose – it has a number of drawbacks that Guardian Project describes as follows,
While we are very proud of the work we did with the CameraV and InformaCam projects, the end results was a complex application and novel data format that required a great deal of investment by any user or community that wished to adopt it. Furthermore, CameraV is an app that you have to decide and remember to use, in a moment of crisis.
The beauty of ProofMode is that it is always running in the background with minimal effect on battery life or device memory. For that reason, no matter whether a user is filming their dog in the park, taking photos at their sister’s birthday, or filming a police officer kill someone with their hands up at a protest rally: the app is always quietly verifying that media.
As such, the app is revolutionary because it allows people to become an army of evidence gatherers. This is what the Guardian Project has to say about Proof Mode on its website,
“Our aim was to create a lightweight (< 3MB!), almost invisible utility (minimal battery impact!), that you can run all of the time on your phone (no annoying notifications or popups), that automatically adds extra digital proof data to all photos and videos you take. This data can then be easily shared, when you really need it, through a “Share Proof” share action, to anyone you choose over email or a messaging app, or uploaded to a cloud service or reporting platform."
Of course, in many places within the US, the problem of institutionalized wrongdoing within the forces is already being combatted with body cams. Just a month ago, a central Florida Sheriff’s deputy pulled someone over for Driving Under Influence (DUI). The officer was accused of taking money from the man’s wallet and tossing it away. The deputy denied the accusation.
However, when footage was pulled from deputy Braman’s body cam, it was found that he had indeed stolen and discarded a $100 bill from the wallet before placing it in an evidence bag. The deputy resigned, which in my opinion doesn’t seem enough of a punishment. As unfortunate as that low level of punishment might be, however, the case is a great example of how footage can be used to obtain justice.
By running in the background at all times, ProofMode turns anybody’s footage into a resource that is just as useful as a police body cam and that can be used to capture footage in all sorts of circumstances. For this reason, the app is a tremendous force for good.
Unfortunately, in the US, cases like that of officer John Braman are the least of anybody’s worries. The US is a country where police often shoot first and think later. It is also a place where there is a constant stream of accusations of unnecessary force and police shootings. Under the circumstances, ProofMode could be a solution: as long as the US decides to protect people’s right to film the police.
US legislators find in favor of the public
The good news is that just two weeks ago, a divided federal appeals court decided two to one in favor of upholding the public’s right to film the police. That decision was based on the first amendment and is definitely a step in the right direction. The ruling, however, is not absolute, and according to the American Civil Liberties Union,
“there is a widespread, continuing pattern of law enforcement officers ordering people to stop taking photographs or video in public places and harassing, detaining and arresting those who fail to comply.”
The decision does, however, set a new precedent that many hope will lead to a wider acceptance of the right to film law enforcement. The court of appeals made the following statement after making the groundbreaking decision,
“The First and Eleventh Circuits have held that the First Amendment protects the rights of individuals to videotape police officers performing their duties. In American Civil Liberties Union v. Alvarez, the Seventh Circuit explained that the First Amendment protects the audio recording of the police and concluded that an Illinois wiretapping statute, which criminalized the audio recording of police officers, merited heightened First Amendment scrutiny because of its burdens on First Amendment rights.
No circuit has held that the First Amendment protection does not extend to the video recording of police activity, although several circuit courts have explained that the law in their respective circuits is not clearly established while refraining from determining whether there is a First Amendment right to record the police.”
What is troublesome, is that the US appears to be incredibly split when it comes to these type of issues. In Arizona, for example, a law passed last week allows police to arrest peaceful protesters and seize their assets. The draconian new bill permits the police to enforce state racketeering laws against peaceful protesters. Sadly, the new legislation would give law enforcement officers in Arizona the legal right to seize the smartphones of people who might have caught misconduct on camera. This is extremely troublesome and is evidence of the need for an app like ProofMode.
When congregating en mass, ProofMode gives those people the ability to all simultaneously capture, verified, untampered evidence. With that in mind, although the police may well be able to seize some assets if enough people all film the same incident using ProofMode – it seems likely that some footage might remain – should wrongdoing occur. It is for this reason, that ProofMode’s ability to work in the background, at all times, is so valuable.
So, how does it work?
In order to serve its purpose, the app automatically generates an OpenPGP key for each individual installation of the app. That key is used to automatically sign all photos and videos the second they are captured. In addition, a sha256 hash is also generated. That strong cryptographic signature is combined with a snapshot of as much device data as is possible: GPS location, WiFi and mobile networks, altitude, device language, hardware type, and whatever else is available. That signed data is then stored with the video or photo, completing the process.
I strongly support people’s right to both protest peacefully and film the police. After all, like the government, the police are supposed to work for the people rather than against them. For this reason, I extend gratitude to Guardian Project for developing such an excellent app. I hope that news of the app spreads wide and far and that people decide to install it on their devices. In a perfect world, this app will not only capture wrongdoing as it occurs: but will also serve as a deterrent when people suddenly realize that evidence could be gathering around them.
Opinions are the writers own.
Title Image credit: Guardian Project/ProofMode
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