You may find yourself in a situation where, in order to protect the private data on your phone — as well as the data on all the services accessible from your phone — from imminent seizure, you will need to erase that phone as quickly as possible. In such a situation, you may be unable to spare the attention necessary to fiddle around in the guts of your phone’s utility applications, hunting for its rarely used self-destruct command.

With a bit of foresight, you can set up your phone to allow erasing all your sensitive information without leaving its lock-screen — and then give you the ability to restore your data later.

  1. Set up your phone to back up its data regularly.
    • iPhone: In the Settings app, under iCloud, turn on backups. (You will need to set up an iCloud account if you don’t already have one associated with your phone.)
    • Android: (I don’t know! Feel free to tell me.)
  2. Set up your phone to erase itself after a certain number of incorrect password attempts.
    • iPhone: In the Settings app, under Touch ID & Password (or just Password on an older phone), turn on the Erase Data switch.
    • Android: (I don’t know! Feel free to tell me.)

Having done this, if you find yourself needing to make your phone’s data inaccessible quickly, you can lock it, then proceed to rapidly and repeatedly tap an incorrect unlock code — 1111, say — until you trigger the phone’s erasure. (Caveat: I haven’t tried deleting my own iPhone’s data this way, so I don’t know if one can expect having to navigate past “You’re about to erase this phone” dialogs or the like, as well.)

When your phone and your attention have both returned to your full control, you can get yourself to a Wi-fi spot and restore its data from its most recent backup. (On iPhone, this option clearly presents itself from a just-erased phone’s setup process.) You can also continue using your phone in its “factory-fresh” state in between its erasure and its restoration, but without access to your data you’ll have to (for example) manually enter your friends’ or family’s phone numbers in order to contact them. It may be a good idea, therefore, to complement this plan by carrying a few key phone numbers on a physical card that you carry separately in your purse or wallet.

I offer this advice as a white American who seldom crosses his country’s national border, such that I don’t feel it that this advice necessarily applies to myself today — but, reading the news, I have prepared my phone as I describe above just the same. I invite readers with different backgrounds or experiences than my own, and who wish to offer counter-narratives, to get in touch; I will amend this post as warranted.

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