Police using access to cell phones as an investigative tool is something that comes up in relation to all kinds of criminal charges not limited to controlled substances offenses, domestic cases and other similar situation.
Anytime someone comes into contact with police, especially if they are turning themselves in or being arrested and they have a cell phone on their person the police seize the phone. So the first rule, if someone is going to turn themselves in or come into contact with police, they should absolutely not have their cell phone with them.
You cannot be forced to disclose your smartphone passcode
Next, if they are getting arrested for example at home, they should not bring their cell phone with them or it will be seized. But the big issue is that a person cannot be made to disclose the passcode used to open the phone. So even if the police have a search warrant, if they don’t have the passcode they can’t get into the phone.
Many phones have been returned from a forensic analysis expert saying he could not review the contents because he did not have the code, despite a search warrant.
Why face recognition can be dangerous
However if a person has face recognition, that can be used to open the phone. The reason is, all of us have the right not to make incriminating statements so we don’t have to tell the police our passcode under any circumstances.
While we have a right to privacy in our passcode, we don’t have a right to privacy in our physical appearance. This is because we show our face to everyone, but we don’t show our passcode to anyone. So the police can use your physical image to get into the phone. This is a reason to have access limited to the passcode.
Dangers of smartphone fingerprint recognition
We probably also don’t have a right to privacy in our fingerprints. So there have been cases where courts have ordered people to put their finger on the phone to open the phone. But in no circumstances can anyone be forced to reveal their passcode. This is a reason to have your phone set so that the only way to access it is by passcode.
We all keep our entire lives on our phones these days and if there is anything on there the police could conceivably use even in some twisted exaggerated way to incriminate you in criminal activity, you are safe only if your phone is passcode encrypted.
Face or fingerprint recognition will not protect you.