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How To Protect Your Phone From The Police and from everyone else, too

Written for noobs, beginners, and all other manner of non-experts, by a non-expert.

Note: This article is primarily about the Nexus 4 smartphone, which runs the Android operating system by Google. Much of the information will be relevant to other Android phones. It may not be relevant for iPhones, though there will be some similarities.

At this point, with all this talk of police and photography, my regular readers are probably starting to wonder if I’m a paranoid conspiracy freak. I assure you I’m not, although no doubt that’s just what a paranoid conspiracy freak would say.

It’s just that the issue of public photography has come into focus for me because of my work with PEN Canada, an organization that protects our right to self-expression. Usually, this has to do with writing, writers, and the publishing world. But lately photography has become an important part of the discussion, because everyone has a camera in their phone now, and lots of people happen to be using them to catch the police doing things they shouldn’t be doing. This is a good thing.

Sometimes this makes the bad police very mad, and they try to take away your phone, or force you to delete your pictures. This is a bad thing. They’re not allowed to do this, and you shouldn’t let them, although sometimes the bad police can be very scary, and they can make it seem like all sorts of horrible things will happen to you if you don’t do what they say. Most of the time, they’re lying. But they’re also very convincing.

Nothing like this has ever happened to me, and chances are it won’t happen to you, either. But then again we do all kinds of things to prepare for events that probably won’t happen, but might, such as wearing seat belts or buying insurance policies. Protecting your phone is no more paranoid an act than buying auto insurance.

So, to protect your Nexus 4 phone from bad cops (don’t forget, there are plenty of good ones too!), snooping spouses, nosey neighbors, and all other manner of meddlers, you need to do two things:
1. Password-protect your phone with a PIN
2. Get some apps that allow you to upload pictures and video to a cloud storage device IMMEDIATELY after you take them.

Protect Your Phone With A PIN

On my Nexus 4, I swipe down from the top of the screen to reveal the behind-the-scenes version of my phone. You may not have known you can do this. If not, you should! It’s cool.

Then I tap the icon in the upper right-hand corner that looks like a little face. This brings me to a page where I will see more icons with my user name, Brightness, Settings, and various things about my network connections.

Tap on Settings.

Here on the Settings page, you will see a heading for Wireless and Networks, with various options below that. Ignore that and keep going.

Next heading is called Device. Keep going. You’re practically a hacker now!

Next heading is called Personal, which is the one we want. Under Personal you will see an option for Security. Tap that.

There are lots of options for security here. We’re only going to concern ourselves with the first one–Screen lock (PIN). If you tap that, you will have the option of setting various types of security on your phone. I recommend using the PIN. The Face Unlock technology doesn’t always work, especially for those of us with beards.

Choose your pin and enter it, then click Next. You will be asked to enter it again. Then click OK. That’s it. You’re PIN-protected. DON’T FORGET IT.

After that, every time you turn your phone on, it will require that pin to be entered before anyone can access any data on it. It will feel like a bit of a pain at first if you were used to just swiping to unlock. You’ll get used to it. And it’s worth it.

Don’t forget that PIN!

How To Automatically Upload Pictures To The Cloud

The main point of this is to protect pictures you’ve taken from being deleted by anyone who gets their hands on your phone. The ‘cloud’ here really just means the internet. You can download apps that will automatically send any picture you take to an account with cloud storage. The easiest and most straight-forward way to do this for the phone and/or computing noob is Dropbox.

If you don’t have Dropbox yet, or if you aren’t sure if you do, look at the bottom of your Nexus 4 screen. You should see icons for Camera, Chrome, a bunch of dots, Messaging, and Phone. The bunch of dots is your Apps. Click on that.

This will take you to your app center. All the apps on your phone are stored here. You may have several pages of apps, or you may just have two or three. They’re listed alphabetically. If you don’t see Dropbox listed among the Ds, then you don’t have it yet.

It’s easy to get. Click on the icon in the top right corner that looks like a little suitcase with an arrow on it. This will take you to the Google Play Store.

Click on the little magnifying glass icon at the top right of your screen. This is the Search icon. This allows you to search for new apps. Type in Dropbox using your virtual keyboard.

The Dropbox app will be the first one that comes up. Select it and click Install. When it’s done installing, click Open.

If you don’t have a Dropbox account yet, they’re free. You will have to set up your account by filling in some basic information and setting up a password.

That’s actually all you have to do. Now whenever you take a picture with your phone, it will automatically be sent to your Dropbox account, to a folder called Camera Uploads.

You can further protect your Dropbox account by clicking on the icon in the top right-hand corner that looks like three dots. Then click on Settings. Here you can set a Passcode Lock that will allow you the option of setting yet another PIN for access to your Dropbox account. It will also allow you the option of deleting your entire Dropbox account in the event that someone tries a bad PIN a certain number of times. That’s a bit risky, if you have a bad memory. But it’s there if you want it.

There are many other options for cloud storage, but for the basic user, this is enough to get you started. You can also check out Box, the Amazon Cloud Drive, and a website called If This Then That (ifttt.com). All of these will perform similar functions to Dropbox.

If you have suggestions for other apps or other methods of safeguarding your images from overzealous authority figures, please share them below!

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