There are a variety of situations in which you might want to quickly record a video on your phone without it appearing that you’re doing so, including staying safe in a vulnerable situation, protesting in a country that doesn’t necessarily want to see anyone protesting, and holding law enforcement accountable.
This puts Apple and Google in a difficult position, as they do not want to encourage hidden video recording on smartphones. It can be beneficial and potentially life-saving, but it can also be easily abused for nefarious purposes. With that in mind, there are no apps or tricks that you can use to secretly record video.
Nevertheless, there are ways to record clips quickly while your phone is locked, dim the screen while video is being recorded, and more. If you ever find yourself in a situation where you need to use one of these features on your phone, it’s worth knowing about them.
When the screen is locked, and need to quickly record a video, press the power button, long press the camera button (lower right), then press and hold the shutter button The photo mode becomes the video mode, and a recording is started.
To keep the recording going, keep your finger pressed down. Without unlocking the device completely, only the clip that was just recorded will be accessible once it’s finished—to prevent anyone from accessing this most recent video as well, you can lock the phone again with another tap on the power button.
The I’m being pulled over Siri shortcut can be used to add some additional functionality (work of Robert Petersen). After you’ve installed it, say “I’m getting pulled over” within Siri’s hearing range, and a video recording from the front-facing camera begins. At the same time, the screen is dimmed and Do Not Disturb is enabled to prevent unwanted attention from being drawn to your smartphone.
While the shortcut will run while your phone is locked, you will need to unlock it to begin recording and to select the recipients to whom you want to send it when it is finished.
You can also schedule video uploads through your preferred cloud storage app (if that is iCloud, you can ensure that auto upload is enabled by going to Settings, then your Apple ID name, and finally iCloud).
While there is an accessibility trick for recording video while the screen is off, the recording must begin while the screen is on and unlocked. Select Accessibility and Accessibility Shortcut from the Settings menu, then VoiceOver (the screen reader utility).
Start recording video with the camera app, then triple-tap the power button to activate VoiceOver and triple-tap the screen with three fingers. The recording continues even though the screen is turned off. To return to normal, reverse the process with the triple-taps.
Apple, as you might expect, does not allow third-party apps to record video in the background or while your phone is turned off. The closest app you can find is SP Camera, which costs a few dollars but tries to hide the fact that video recording is taking place by shrinking the camera view and surrounding it with other screen furniture.
Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) Mobile Justice app has been designed to record interactions with law enforcement — videos are automatically shared with trusted contacts you specify, as well as automatically uploaded to the ACLU servers, ensuring that they are safe and sound if your phone is seized for any reason.
Android phones differ in terms of software features from one manufacturer to the next, so you may need to do some research on your specific model. You’ll also have to deal with different Android versions, so you might have to wait for an update, but you should be able to find something that works for your phone.
The quickest way to record video from the lock screen on Google Pixel and Samsung Galaxy phones is to double-tap the power button to open the main camera app, then press and hold the shutter button — although you are initially in Photo mode, the press and hold action begins recording a video.
Since you launched the camera from the lock screen, the only video available without some kind of authentication will be the one you just recorded; to hide it, press the power button again to lock the phone. You’re done if your photo software is set to automatically upload the video — tap your avatar (top right), Photos settings, and Backup and sync in the Google Photos app for Android, for example.
However, those default methods require the camera app to be open. If you have a Pixel phone, you can set up an alternative method through the Safety app: tap the cog icon (top left), then Emergency SOS, and you can customize what happens when you quickly press the power button five times. One option is to record a video in the background, which can then be shared with a specific contact if desired.
Third-party apps that cover similar functionality are also available, though they don’t quite match the Safety. When you start recording with the appropriately named Background Video Recorder Pro, your screen must be unlocked and the app must be open, but you can use other apps and even lock your phone while the recording continues in the background — the recording can then be stopped (and the video automatically shared) without unlocking your phone.
NinjaCam works in a similar way, allowing you to record a video in the background while using other apps or turning off the screen. However, just like with Background Video Recorder Pro, you must have the app open when the recording begins. With this app, you get a few more features, including a PIN lock that is unique to the app, which adds an extra layer of security between your videos and anyone who might want to look at them.
The ACLU’s Mobile Justice app is available for both Android and iPhone users. You can use it to record situations in which you believe your safety is in jeopardy, and because clips are automatically shared with trusted contacts and the ACLU, your video is shared even if your phone isn’t. The app also contains a wealth of useful information, such as information on your rights if you’re stopped by the police or protesting.