Frequently Asked Questions
1. What does the Mobile Justice VA smartphone app do?
The app, available in the App Store and Google Play, allows users to record law enforcement, to alert other Mobile Justice VA app users to nearby law enforcement encounters and to submit videos and incident reports automatically to the ACLU of Virginia. Individuals who believe that they have witnessed a civil rights violation can complete an incident report and send it to the ACLU for review, along with their contact information, for follow-up.
2. Does the app have any other features?
Mobile Justice VA contains ACLU Know Your Rights information.
3. Is Mobile Justice VA available in multiple languages?
The app is currently available in English and Spanish.
4. Is the Mobile Justice VA app free?
Users can download the app at no cost. The goal of Mobile Justice VA is to help ensure that everyone can exercise their First Amendment rights by recording misconduct by law enforcement and other government officials. The ACLU believes that in order to reach that goal the app must be available to everyone, without a fee.
5. Can this app be used in classrooms, polling places and other settings?
Mobile Justice VA is principally meant to be used to document law enforcement interactions with members of the public, but may apply to encounters with other government officials.
State and federal laws prohibit some recordings if the person being recorded does not consent. In Virginia, a conversation may be recorded if at least one party has consented to the recording. If the person doing the recording is a party to the conversation, the recording is legal. It is a crime, however, to create an audio recording of a private conversation when no party has consented to the recording. State law also limits video recording in polling places. Most public schools have policies limiting the use of electronic devices; students and others should be familiar with these policies before recording in a public school.
Filming law enforcement officers who are interacting with the public in the course of their duties is legal, however, as such officers have no reasonable expectation of privacy when they interact with the public. Additionally, state law permits individuals to use recording devices at a public meeting, consistent with any reasonable rules adopted by the government body.
While recording law enforcement officers is prohibited in some situations, eyewitnesses to misconduct by a government official or a civil rights violation can describe what they saw by using the report function of the app to submit incident forms to the ACLU.
6. Will ACLU attorneys review all of the footage and incident reports?
ACLU attorneys will review videos if the corresponding incident report indicates that a serious civil rights violation has occurred.
7. Can ACLU share the incident reports with the public?
The incident report forms that users fill out are confidential and privileged communications akin to legal intake forms. The ACLU may share and publicize general facts documented in the reports, absent identifying information, in order to expose misconduct by law enforcement and further the ACLU’s mission of protecting civil liberties.
Videos sent to the ACLU are not privileged. The ACLU may share videos with community organizations or the general public to help call attention to law enforcement abuse and protect civil rights and civil liberties.
8. How will ACLU use the information it receives?
The ACLU will review incident reports and the accompanying videos to determine whether to provide legal assistance to users. The ACLU may also publicize incidents of law enforcement misconduct and share videos and other information with community organizations or the public.
9. How long will the ACLU keep information we receive through Mobile Justice VA?
The ACLU may delete the information you send.
10. Can users contact the ACLU after they submit a report to confirm that the ACLU received it or to ask the ACLU to represent them in a lawsuit?
ACLU staff will consider only those videos submitted with incident reports as potential intakes, and will follow-up with any individuals who it considers to be possible plaintiffs. Individuals can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out the status of a report. Individuals who request that the ACLU represent them in a lawsuit should submit the online intake form and reference the submission of a video via the Mobile Justice VA app.
11. Can immigrants, including those who lack authorization to be in the U.S., use Mobile Justice VA?
Yes. Everyone has the same rights when interacting with law enforcement regardless of immigration status. However, users should be aware that law enforcement encounters that result in arrest can result in authorities checking that person’s immigration status, which could lead to deportation.
12. Will users retain a copy of the video on their phone?
Mobile Justice VA stores videos on a user’s smartphone, and sends a duplicate video to the ACLU.
13. Is Mobile Justice available in other states?
Mobile Justice VA is intended for use by people in Virginia. Versions of the Mobile Justice app are currently available in several states, however. Click here to see which other states have an app.
It is important to note that the Know Your Rights materials in the app, including (and especially) those about interacting with and video recording police are tailored to Virginia state law. Other states may have different state laws that affect your rights, including your right to film police. Do not rely on the Know Your Rights materials outside of Virginia. You can check with your local ACLU office to see if they have relevant materials.