‘Siri, I'm getting pulled over’: A new short cut for iPhones can automatically record the police

While the developer didn't base the short cut on existing apps, he's been inspired by projects of digital rights groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 October, 2018, 5:29pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 October, 2018, 6:03pm

There is a big new feature for iPhone experts this year: It is called short cuts, and with a little bit of logic and know-how, you can stitch several apps together and create a script that can be activated by pressing a button or Siri.

Some of the early uses are predictable: saving Instagram photos, sharing the song you're listening to, or creating a morning routine that activates your lights and plays a song.

But Robert Petersen of Arizona has developed a more serious short cut called Police, which monitors police interactions so a user has a record of what has happened.

Once it is installed, you just have to say: “Hey Siri, I'm getting pulled over.”

Then the program, available on Reddit, pauses music you may be playing, turns down brightness on the iPhone, and turns on Do Not Disturb.

But it also sends a quick text to a predetermined contact to tell them you've been pulled over, and it starts recording using the iPhone's front-facing camera. Once you have stopped recording, it can text or email the video to a different predetermined contact and save it to Dropbox.

“It seemed to me that if you’re getting pulled over it couldn’t hurt to have a recording of the incident,” Petersen said in direct messages on Tuesday. “The police these days in many places have body cams, so this could be the civilian equivalent.”

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The idea of a hands-free mobile app for fraught interactions is not new: the American Civil Liberties Union has developed apps since 2012 that record and live-stream encounters with the police. While he didn't base the short cut on existing apps, Petersen said he has been inspired by projects of digital rights groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

While it is difficult to tell how many people have downloaded the short cut, it is the third most popular post of all time on the burgeoning subreddit dedicated to sharing short cut recipes, and it's been widely covered in the Apple enthusiast press. It is on version 1.4, and changes so far have focused on bug fixes and additional service support, like iCloud Drive.

Most of the responses he has received since the original post in September have been positive, and some people want to adapt the short cut to different potentially dangerous situations.

“Some [people] say they’ve had issues in the past with the police, and one woman planned on using the short cut to help with a stalker issue she was having with an ex-boyfriend so that she could send her location to family quickly should anything occur,” Petersen said.

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“That's one of the great things about short cuts, anyone can edit a short cut someone else has made to suit their specific needs,” he said.

You can examine all the steps a short cut takes and all the apps and services it uses – so you can be sure that the script isn't, say, uploading your data to a random server when you use a short cut you didn't write. The entire recipe for Police can be accessed in the short cuts app.

Peterson said he does not have a background in programming, but he knows enough to get around, and has written scripts for MacOS in the past. He said he is an Apple fan, and that he is surprised the company has introduced this kind of feature for power users, given its tendency to keep things simple and locked down.

If you are interested in making your own short cuts, Peterson has some advice:

“The platform has a lot of potential, and if you read the Apple user guides and consult with others on forums, or just look at how other people’s short cuts work and 'reverse engineer' them to your own needs, you can learn a lot quickly.”