People use their phones for everything these days. They use them for text messages, email messages, social media profiles, taking pictures and videos, doing online banking and much more.
As such, if you’re being investigated for financial crimes, the police may want to look at your phone to see if they can find any evidence. This could include things like messages that you sent to someone else or transactions that you made. But can the police force you to open up your phone just because you’re under investigation?
They generally need to have a warrant
As with searching your home, the police usually can only compel you to provide your phone if they have a warrant. They are not allowed to simply force you to type in your password during a traffic stop or an arrest, for instance. They need to go to a judge beforehand, present the reasons that they need to look on your phone, and then be issued a warrant by a judge who determines that that would be the proper course of action. This all takes time, so a police officer cannot take your phone and start looking through it immediately – unless you give consent.
Where it gets to be interesting is if your phone is locked. This is usually done with a passcode, and some people use biometric data, such as their fingerprints. In some cases, the courts have determined that a person cannot be forced to give their password to law enforcement. So you could hand the phone to the police, or they could take it with a search warrant, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they can access the data on it as long as the phone remains locked.
Cases like this do get to be very complex. Your rights are at stake, so you definitely need to know what options you have for your defense.