Police can now demand access to your phone

Up until recently, no law enforcement officer could make you unlock your phone for them. That just changed when a US court ruled that police can make you unlock your handset with the fingerprint scanner, but not with a password or passcode.

This is why when the state of Florida charged a man with third-degree voyeurism, and obtained a warrant to search his iPhone 5 for incriminating photos, the case stalled. It appears that a trial judge denied permission to the police to force the man to give his passcode. According to said judge, this would be the same as testifying against himself, which is a violation of the Fifth Amendment.

The case reached the Florida Court of Appeal, though, and the decision was reversed. This basically grants the police the right to make the suspect give up his passcode, but through the Touch ID. According to the Court of Appeal, this will not violate the Fifth Amendment, as the police already knows that the photos are very likely to be on that phone’s memory.

Providing the passcode doesn not ‘betray any knowledge [the suspect] may have about the circumstances of the offenses’ for which he is charged,” said Judge Anthony Black. “Thus, ‘compelling a suspect to make a nonfactual statement that facilitates the production of evidence’ for which the state has otherwise obtained a warrant based upon evidence independent of the accused’s statements linking the accused to the crime does not offend the privilege.

The trial judge based his decision on a U.S. Supreme Court case, where it was ruled that a suspect may be forced to surrender a key to a strongbox, but not a wall safe combination. Therefore, the iPhone’s passcode must also be protected, according to said judge.

The trial judge based his decision on a U.S. Supreme Court case, where it was ruled that a suspect may be forced to surrender a key to a strongbox, but not a wall safe combination. Therefore, the iPhone’s passcode must also be protected, according to said judge.

The appeals court thinks otherwise, though.

We question whether identifying the key which will open the strongbox – such that the key is surrendered – is, in fact, distinct from telling an officer the combination.

At the end of the day, Judge Black decided that “this is a case of surrender and not testimony” due to the fact that the state already knew it could find evidence on the handset through other means, and obtained a warrant based on this knowledge.

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