The advent of Face ID has ushered in a new era of convenience in biometric security. It’s also prompted privacy-minded folks to contemplate potential scenarios where police officers may attempt to unlock a confiscated iPhone XS by holding the device up to the owner’s face.
Like with Touch ID, Face ID can be disabled quickly and discreetly at any time, even when the phone is in your pocket, with a quick and useful shortcut.
When disabled that way, Face ID stays off until you type in your passcode.
How to temporarily disable Face ID
To temporarily disable Face ID, do the following:
1) Press and hold the Side button and either Volume button.
2) After a second or so, up pops the “Slide to power off” screen with a pair of quick options for powering down the device or initiating a call to your local emergency services.
As soon as you summon this screen, iOS temporarily disables the Face ID feature.
Your face remains registered and Face ID is still turned on in Settings, but you can no longer unlock the phone with your face until your passcode is entered on the Lock screen.
3) Tap Cancel at the bottom or press the Side button again to dismiss this screen.
TIP: To prevent the “Slide to power off” screen from starting a countdown timer and playing a loud alert sound that indicate that an emergency call is about to be placed automatically, disable the option labeled Auto-Call in Settings → Emergency SOS.
How to use Siri to temporarily disable Face ID
If your iPhone is nearby yet is not directly in your possession, you can still disable Face ID temporarily and require a passcode just by using Siri.
To do so, simply say “Hey Siri, whose phone is this?” Siri will show your contact card if there is one linked to you. Although it is not immediately clear, asking this question to Siri will disable Face ID and require a passcode to unlock the device.
TUTORIAL: How to disable Touch ID discreetly
Temporarily disabling Face ID before nap time is the best way to make sure that no one can unlock your phone by scanning your face while you’re asleep—which is why you should never disable Face ID’s Attention Awareness capability.
But what about the police?
Legal gray area
In the United States, law enforcement agencies cannot legally compel you to give them your passcode or type it in yourself—that’s why you should memorize this helpful shortcut.
You never know if you’ll find yourself in an unfortunate position where a thief or a police officer may coerce you into unlocking the phone with Face ID. As an extra layer of protection, you’ll find this shortcut especially useful at the US border control to prevent warrantless searches.
Such situations are always stressful and you may not even have the chance to hold those buttons while pulling the phone out of your pocket. In that case, be sure to look away while handing your iPhone XS over to an officer to avoid unlocking it accidentally with a glance.
Could police officers force someone they’ve arrested to look into their iPhone XS to unlock it?
This is a bit of a murky legal area.
We know that the Fifth Amendment protects US citizens from having to give up information that could incriminate them, like a password or PIN code. Your facial scan (or thumbprint in the case of Touch ID), however, isn’t something you “know” the way your passcode is.
The US government currently does not leverage search warrants to compel criminals to unlock phones secured with biometric authentication, but don’t count on it. Legal uncertainty surrounding biometric authentication on smartphones is one of the most compelling reasons to memorize this handy gesture, just in case.
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