Today, more and more of us are carrying around Smartphones. I know my iPhone is usually within arm's reach. Have you ever thought about how much personal information is stored in your phone? Names of contacts, phone records, and text message conversations. So much of our conversations are now happening over text message which is incredibly convenient but it also documents and logs information in your phone the way a telephone conversation doesn't. Oh, and internet browsing history is saved on your phone too.
If you own a Smartphone, you need to make sure you are protecting your data from unwanted eyes. In my experience, police officers definitely meet the criteria of "unwanted eyes." But if I have nothing to hide, why do I need a passcode? The simple answer is that you should value your privacy, whether the information you want to keep private is a record of your criminal dealings or not. Most importantly, if you have any information on your phone that you don't want a complete stranger to see, you need a passcode.
Here's another reason, if the police can access your phone, they may be able to use it to further their investigation or for a more nefarious reason. I had one case where a client was under arrest for a drinking and driving. He was handcuffed and placed in the rear of a cruiser car. His Blackberry was in his vehicle, which was now parked on the side of the road. He was able to escape from the cruiser car and and he ran away, cuffs and all. At some point after his escape, his Blackberry accessed his FaceBook page and posted that he was a jerk. It didn't really say jerk, but something along those lines - just a bit more crass. I suppose it is possible the tow truck driver could've accessed his phone but it seems more likely it was the police officers. Was he being a jerk... yeah sure, he escaped lawful custody. Should someone else have used his phone and posted that on FaceBook... no. Absolutely not. And to be honest, there isn't a lot he can do after the fact to get justice from the police officers. With any anecdote I tell involving police misconduct, I like to always state the following: police officers are people and like people there are always good ones and bad ones. Never let one bad egg spoil the rest. I know many outstanding officers who work hard to uphold the rights of citizens and I appreciate they have a job not many of the rest of us can or want to do.
I also recommend using a passcode lock that uses either numbers or letters. If a picture of your face can unlock your phone (like on some Android devices) or your fingerprint on the new iPhones, it is possible to unlock your phone even if you don't want to unlock your phone. Someone can just place your finger on the phone or hold it near your face and they now have access to everything. Use a passcode that is stored in your head. And don't fall prey to tricks from police officers like, "You have to tell us your passcode" or "We will find out all the information anyway." If the police think they can bypass Blackberry or Apple's security, let them put in the effort of trying. Don't just hand over your passcode.
About the author
Michael Dyck is a partner at Rees & Dyck Criminal Defence. He represents clients primarily from Winnipeg, Steinbach, and rural Manitoba. He has extensive experience helping people charged with criminal offences and focuses on building legal strategy with clients. To read more of his articles, please visit his partner's website TomRees.ca.