Civilian body cams are now a reality thanks to Apple’s recent introduction of a new feature called Shortcuts to iOS 12. The app allows iPhone users to create customized commands that can be activated by either pressing a button or using Siri.
The app allows users to stitch together other apps to create voice or button activated workflows involving everything from automatic calendar reminders to saving Instagram photos and from easily calculating a tip to sharing a song you’re listening to on social media. iPhone users can create scripts themselves with a little trial and error but shortcuts made by others can be downloaded and installed.
One such pre-made shortcut belongs on the phone of every iPhone user. Reddit user Robert Petersen has developed a very serious and very useful shortcut called Police. This shortcut allows iPhone users to record interactions with police, ensuring that, no matter what happens, you have a record.
Petersen noticed that “police say one thing happened and the citizen pulled over says something else. Sometimes police have body cameras, sometimes not. When they do, the video is not always released in a timely manner. I wanted a way for the person being pulled over to have a record for themselves.”
And that’s exactly what his shortcut does.
After triggering the shortcut by saying something like “Hey Siri, I’m getting pulled over,” music is paused, the phone’s screen brightness is lowered, the Do Not Disturb feature is activated and the phone owner’s location is sent to an emergency contact along with a note informing them that the owner has been pulled over. The shortcut will also begin recording video with the front facing camera and, when finished, will be sent to both the emergency contact and saved to a cloud service.
“It seemed to me that if you’re getting pulled over it couldn’t hurt to have a recording of the incident,” Petersen said. “The police these days in many places have body cams, so this could be the civilian equivalent.”
Petersen found inspiration in apps and projects developed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation that can record and livestream police encounters.
Petersen has received mostly positive feedback since he first posted the shortcut in September. Some users have gone so far as to adapt the shortcut to other potentially dangerous situations. One woman, in particular, told Petersen she planned to use the shortcut to help deal with a stalker. “That’s one of the great things about Shortcuts: Anyone can edit a shortcut someone else has made to suit their specific needs,” Petersen said.
Petersen plans to keep the shortcut updated and is considering a live streaming option instead of simple recording the footage locally on the iPhone. “I’m not sure that any of the major live streaming apps support Shortcuts as of yet, but I’m definitely looking into that.”
Another useful shortcut that addresses similar concerns with police encounters has popped up. While police cannot legally compel a person to hand over their phone’s passcode, they do force phone owners to use their fingerprint or face to unlock smartphones. In an effort to avoid this invasion of privacy, another iPhone user created a shortcut called Reboot that automatically reboots the phone, rending the fingerprint or face ID features unavailable until the passcode is used.
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