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Citizen surveillance: Civilians against corruption

By Harry Gable-Newkirk
On March 14, 2014

Recently, a man named George Thompson was arrested for filming a police officer in Fall River, Mass. Thompson was sitting on his porch when he saw the police officer, Tom Barboza, pacing around and cursing loudly. Thompson then decided to pull out his phone and film the officer. The police officer apprehended Thompson and charged him with unlawful wiretapping. The man was fully cooperative in handing over the phone, giving Officer Barboza his password to log in. Once the phone was confiscated, its entire data somehow disappeared. The police claimed that this wipe of data was done remotely, but that is a suspect statement at best. In the bounds of Massachusetts law, it is completely legal to film a police officer as long as the taping is not concealed.
It's unfortunate that the video was lost; as it could implicate a police officer in breaking the law that is he is employed to protect. This is not the first time this has happened either: a woman in Florida was forcefully arrested after filming a police officer at a traffic stop. It's interesting to see how some police officers react once their job is put under a citizen's magnifying glass.
Luckily, recent technology can be used to fight this sort of corruption. There is a Swedish app known as "Bambuser," which can be downloaded for free on most mobile platforms. Bambuser allows the user to stream video live from a phone onto the internet immediately. The stream is also encrypted with a password that can only be accessed by the user who set up the application. In the forementioned situation, Bambuser would have been very useful. We'd have a video that would implicate an officer in breaking the law. Even if the police erased all the phone's data, the video would be safely stored on the web via live stream. If George Thompson was aware of this service, Officer Barboza might not have been put behind bars, but he would have at the very least got a slap on the wrist. The case is going to court shortly, but will more than likely be thrown out and fade away into the woodwork.
Corruption in the American police system is not necessarily rampant, but there is always room for improvement. With apps like "Bambuser" we can improve the quality of life of American citizens and force officers to stay within the bounds of the law.
This application would be even more usefu on foreign fronts. It would be better employed in countries with more stories to tell. For example, we could get more information on the unfolding situations in North Korea and tap through the media white wash that takes place there. In fact, we've already seen it used, in some situations, by journalists. The application was used during the demonstrations in Egypt against President Hosni Mubarak several years ago. The Egyptian government found out about the application and completely blocked the service and website all throughout Egypt. This was obviously to help prevent the truth of the protests from reaching the world's public eye, or at the very least, suppress it to some degree. Similar situations also occurred during the Syrian Civil War and protests in Bahrain.
It's a good thing that this application is known about to some degree, but it is not reaching its full journalistic potential. The presence of the application on everyday citizen's phones is drastically less than it should be. Concerned citizens everywhere can download this application (assuming the government hasn't banned it) to fight corruption, for free. It takes great bravery to stand up to the government you are living under, and that bravery should be rewarded, not suppressed. The fact that the video is streamed directly to the internet should supply a certain degree of courage to the active citizen. By the time the video is taken, it is already on the internet, there is no outside force that can alter the video.
Awareness for this application and others like it should be raised. Especially in countries that could use this application more than America. It would cause those who are corrupt to be looking over their shoulder more than they already do. There is great benefit in this application, and the world needs to hear about it. 


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