Smartphones are fantastic playback devices – you can use them to view TV shows, movies, videos, audiobooks, music, games, and more. They are equally good at recording audio and video content from our daily lives. You can use a smartphone to make voice memos to yourself to remind you of important tasks or to take notes, you can record video of special events (or just funny things you see in the neighborhood), and you can even record what’s happening on your phone’s screens. Some of this functionality is built right into your iPhone, while other kinds of tasks will require downloading one or more apps.
Is it Legal?
When you want to record secretly, things get a little trickier. There are any number of reasons you might want to record something without the subjects of the recording knowing about it; maybe you want to take nannycam video of your child care provider to make sure they aren’t doing anything wrong when you’re not around, or maybe you want to have a video record of everyone who comes up to the front door of your house. The legality and morality of such recording can be clear-cut, but it can also be murky. Much depends on the location, the purpose of the recording, and the amount of privacy that reasonable people can expect in certain circumstances. It is generally legal to record the outside of your home without providing any notification, for example; it’s your private property, people coming up to your home are out in public, and they have no reasonable expectation of privacy in that circumstance. Other circumstances are considerably less clear.
TechJunkie is not a legal advice site and cannot give you advice as to the specific legality of a particular act. For that, you need to consult a lawyer. We can explain some basic concepts, however.
Some of the law on this subject is fairly well-settled; for example, can you legally record phone conversations or in-person conversations. In some states (called one-party states) such a recording is legal if anyone in the conversation knows that it’s being recorded. This counts even if that person is the one making the recording. In other states, recording is legal only if all parties in the conversation are informed that they are being recorded. That’s why the customer-service helpline always informs you that “calls may be recorded or monitored” – so that no matter what the legal regime is in your state, they are covered.
There are 11 states in which all parties must be informed of a recording – California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Washington. In addition, Hawaii is usually a one-party state, but is a two-party state if the recording device is to be located in a private place. Since that’s an almost impossibly vague rule, you should consider Hawaii a two-party state. In most states, advising of the recording is sufficient; only a few places require that everyone involved actually explicitly consent to being recorded.
There is also a federal vs. state consideration. Questions of jurisdiction are almost always very tricky, so again, consult a lawyer before making any important decisions. As a general principle, if the people involved in a conversation are in different states then Federal law applies. If they are in one state, then that state’s law controls. The Federal law is a one-party consent law, while, as seen above, states vary. It is also worth noting that in most states, recording a conversation in a public place is always legal, even without the explicit knowledge of the parties; in public places, people cannot have a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Recording the Police or Other Public Officials
How about recording a police stop, or the conduct of public officials doing official business? Are you allowed to record it, and do you have to inform them of the recording? In general, yes you can record, and no you do not have to inform. Four Federal circuit courts (First, Seventh, Ninth, and Eleventh) have explicitly found that there is a First Amendment right to record public officials in the course of their job. Those courts cover the states of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Washington, and Wisconsin. They also cover the US territories of the Northern Marianas Islands, Puerto Rico and Guam. In other states and territories, the right to record government officials has not yet gone to the Federal judiciary for judgment. It is probable that the decisions already reached by four of the nation’s circuit courts would be persuasive in a similar case in an untested state, but that is not guaranteed.
It is crucial to note that this First Amendment right to record does NOT carry over into a right to interfere with the duties of the police, or to otherwise violate applicable laws. You cannot interfere with an arrest, trespass, ignore legitimate police orders intended to control a riot or other civil disturbance, or violate the private rights of any other person.
So you’re at the Phish concert and you are really digging the music. Can you take out your phone and record the show? Yes and no, but mostly no.
Legally, no. There is a Federal law which prohibits the taking of a recording of a public performance (a concert, a play, a musical – whatever) without the explicit permission of the performers, and in many cases, of the owners of the venue.
In practical terms, many performers have tolerated (and in a few exceptional cases, such as the Grateful Dead, encouraged) the taking of bootleg recordings (audio, video, or both) of their shows. This tolerance is not the same thing as it being legal, but in general if you are recording a show where the performers don’t mind, then there isn’t going to be an issue. However, it is strictly forbidden to use such recordings for gain, personal or otherwise. You can get away with recording Phish, maybe, but if you then start trying to sell your Phish bootlegs on Ebay, their lawyers are going to come down on you like the wrath of an angry deity and you will lose, and lose badly, in court. So keep that in mind.
Record Your iPhone Screen
This kind of recording is entirely legal; it’s your phone and you can record whatever you want to record yourself doing. There is built-in functionality in iOS to record your own screen. You have to set it up by enabling it first. Here’s how:
- Navigate to your iPhone Settings app.
- Navigate to Control Center->Customize Controls.
- Select the ‘+’ icon next to Screen Recording.
This adds screen recording to your Control Center.
To actually record:
- Open Control Center with a swipe up from the Home screen.
- Select your new Screen Recording icon. It’s the red or white circle.
- Select it to begin a 3 second countdown. Short press for just video, longer press for audio and video.
- Select the white or red circle again to stop recording.
The recorded video will be accessible within the Photos app and you can edit it as usual, either with the phone’s built-in tools or by exporting it to your Mac. There’s no real way to do this “secretly”, but once you’ve hit record and navigated off to do whatever it is you want to record, there’s no indication that a recording is taking place.
Recording With Your iPhone Screen Turned Off
You can record video and/or audio with the Camera app on your phone, but of course this will usually be quite obvious to anyone who looks at the phone – they’ll see the Camera app running on a brightly-lit, active screen. If you want to record with the camera and still look subtle, there is a way to do that on some older versions of iOS. Note that this will not work on version 10 or later.
- Lock your iPhone screen with the phone turned on.
- Press the lock key to brighten the lock app but don’t unlock it.
- Slide the camera icon up a little while holding it down.
- Select the red record button at the bottom with another finger while still holding down the camera icon.
- Press the Home button six times in quick succession.
- Continue holding down the camera icon until your iPhone screen goes dark.
At this point, your iPhone is recording and will continue to do so until you turn it off or it runs out of disk space or battery.
Silencing Your Shutter Sound
This one is simple. If you want to take pictures or videos without the shutter sound going off, just flip the Mute switch on your iPhone. (It’s the same switch that shuts off the phone’s ringer.) Presto, no more shutter noise.
You may read articles online saying that this is illegal to do. While it is possible that in some jurisdiction somewhere it has been made illegal to take a picture without a shutter sound, my research has been unable to uncover it. It’s simply not true. You can turn your shutter noise off to your heart’s content. If you do see an article which says this is illegal, and which provides a citation to a source other than the author’s opinion, please come back here and leave a comment for us – we are following this issue.
Secretly Recording Using Apps
There are a number of apps which will let you secretly record phone calls, videos, and audio. I’m not going to do an exhaustive review of all of them, but here are some that you can use to make recordings privately on your iPhone.
TapeACall Pro does what it says on the box: it lets you record the calls made on an iPhone. This is a highly-rated app and while it does cost $10.99, it lets you record your calls without any hassles and is very reliable.
SP Camera costs $9.99 but it is a very full-featured spy camera app for your iPhone. It lets you secretly capture photos and videos without anyone noticing. The app hides all the camera interface buttons and the viewfinder display, instead showing a fake background image. You can set your phone down in an area as though you had just left it there and it will record for you while it, and you, look totally innocent. The app has a photo timer feature that lets you take still shots every few seconds, as well as a motion detector sensor that will start recording if something moves in the camera’s field of vision. You can also save your videos and photos to a secret, password-protected folder.
Presence is an app that lets you turn any iOS device into a WiFi connected security camera. This lets you set up your old iPhone or iPad anywhere in your home or office and quietly stream video to your mobile device. You can secretly record in any location where you can leave your phone and that has WiFi. Ideal for video surveillance, it also features two-way calling. The base app is free; the premium service adds support for things like home security devices, smart switches, controllable lights, etc.
Do you have any other suggestions for how to record secretly using an iPhone? Share them with us in the comments below!
Need to make calls on your iPhone but want to use a different number? Check out our guide to making spoof calls on your iPhone.
Think someone is screenshotting your text exchange? Find out if someone is screenshotting your texts on iPhone.
Like torrents? We’ve got a tutorial on downloading torrents to your iPhone.
We don’t judge…here’s how you can hide iMessages on your iPhone.
Like movies? Here’s how to install Showbox on your iPhone.