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Rule #6: Master Your Technology
Smartphone owners now outnumber users of more basic phones. At any moment there are more than 100 million Americans in reach of a device that can capture police misconduct and share it with the world in seconds.
Always Passcode Protect Your Smartphone
The magic of both apps is that they can instantly store your video offsite. This is essential for preserving video in case police illegally destroy or confiscate your camera. But even with these apps installed, you’ll want to make sure that your device is always passcode protected. If a cop snatches your camera, this will make it extremely difficult for her to simply delete your videos. (If a cop tries to trick you into revealing your passcode, never, never, never give it up!)
Keep in mind that Qik and Bambuser’s offsite upload feature might be slow or nonexistent in places without Wi-Fi or a strong 3G/4G signal. Regardless, your captured video will be saved locally on your device until you’ve got a good enough signal to upload offsite.
Set Videos to “Private”
Both apps allow you to set your account to automatically upload videos as “private” (only you can see them) or “public” (everyone can see them). But until police are no longer free to raid the homes of citizens who capture and upload YouTube videos of them going berserk, it’s probably wise to keep your default setting to “private.”
With a little bit of practice you should be able to pull your smartphone from your pocket or purse, turn it on, enter your passcode, open the app, and hit record within 10 seconds. Keep your preferred app easily accessible on your home screen to save precious seconds. But don’t try to shave milliseconds off your time by disabling your passcode.
Both apps share an important feature that allows your video to be saved if your phone is turned off—even if you’re still recording. So if you anticipate that a cop is about to grab your phone, quickly turn it off. Without your passcode, police won’t be able to delete your videos or personal information even if they confiscate or destroy your phone.
With the iPhone 4 and Samsung Galaxy Android devices I tested, when the phone is turned off the Qik app immediately stops recording and uploads the video offsite. But if the phone is turned off while Bambuser records, the recording continues after the screen goes black.
This Bambuser “black out” feature is a double-edged sword. While it could easily trick cops into thinking you’re not recording them, using it could push you into more dangerous legal territory. As previously mentioned, courts have shown a willingness to convict citizens for secretly recording police. So if you’re somehow caught using this feature it might be easier for a prosecutor to convince a judge or jury that you’ve broken the law. It’s up to you to decide if the increased legal risk is worth the potential to capture incriminating police footage.
Other Recording Options
Cameras lacking offsite recording capability are a less desirable option. As mentioned earlier, if cops delete or destroy your footage—which happens way too often—you might lose your only hope of challenging their version of events in court. But if you can hold on to your camera, there are some good options.
Carlos Miller is a Miami-based photojournalism activist and writer of the popular Photography is Not a Crime blog. While he carries a professional-end Canon XA10 in the field, he says “I never leave home without a Flip camera on a belt pouch. It’s a very decent camera that’s easier to carry around.”
The top-of-the-line Flip UltraHD starts at $178, but earlier models are available for $60 on Amazon. All flip models have one-button recording, which allows you to pull it out of your pocket and shoot within seconds. The built-in USB then lets you upload video to YouTube or other sharing sites through your PC.
Small businessman and “radical technology” educator Justin Holmes recommends the Canon S-series line of cameras. In 2008, his camera captured a police encounter he had while rollerblading in Port Dickenson, New York. His footage provides an outstanding real-life example of how a calm camera-toting citizen can intelligently flex their rights.
“I typically carry a Canon S5-IS,” Holmes says. “But if I was going to buy one new, I'd go for the SX40-HS. If I were on a budget and buying one used, I'd go for S2-IS or S3-IS.” The features he regards as essential include one-touch video, high-quality stereo condenser microphones, fast zoom during video, and 180x270 variable angle LCD. But the last feature he regards as “absolutely essential.” With it the user can glance at the viewfinder while the camera is below or above eye level.