Don’t panic, Florida Man, but a judge just said you have to give phone passcodes to the cops

A Florida state court has ruled that suspected crims can be forced to hand over their smartphone passcodes to cops and other investigators.

Generally in America, you don’t have to hand over your passcodes and passwords to the police because they are considered knowledge in your brain that you have to give them, and is therefore self incrimination. Fingerprints, which can unlock modern mobes, are another story: you have to give those over if you’ve been collared by the cops.

Well, maybe not in Florida. Judge Charles Johnson of the Miami-Dade Circuit Court said Wednesday that two people facing extortion charges do not have a constitutional protection against being forced to hand over the codes to unlock their phones.

Defendants Hencha Voigt and Wesley Victor had been accused of using stolen photos and videos to extort payment from SnapChat celeb Julieanna Goddard. Voigt and Victor’s smartphones – an iPhone and a Blackberry – are believed to contain evidence of the extortion plot.

Police had sought to force the pair to give them their passcodes, while defense lawyers had claimed giving up the codes would violate Fifth Amendment protections against forced self-incrimination.

According to the Miami Herald, the judge ruled in favor of the prosecution with the reasoning that the codes were not equivalent to being forced to testify, but were more like “turning over a key to a safety box.”

The defense now has two weeks to give up the passcodes or risk contempt of court charges.

The judge cited a precedent set last year when a state court of appeals ruled a man accused of voyeurism did not have legal protection against the unlocking of his handset.

Judge Johnson’s ruling today covers Florida, rather than the US as a whole, although courts in other states can cite this decision if they wish. And it can be appealed to a higher bench, of course. It is likely to trigger a debate across America over what extent law enforcement officials can go to when trying to unlock a mobile device.

The debate was pushed to the forefront last year, when Apple and the FBI clashed over a demand to unlock an iPhone used by San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook. The feds ultimately avoided a legal war by opting instead to obtain a software bypass. ®

Source: The Register – Security @ May 3, 2017 at 05:48PM

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