U.S. Court Says Phone Passcodes are Protected Under the Law

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Criminals should protect their iPhones with a passcode, not Touch ID, as a Virginia District Court has determined that passcodes are protected under the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution while fingerprints are not, according to a report Friday by Hampton Roads.

The Fifth Amendment protects citizens from self-incrimination so a phone is protected under the law because otherwise it would require a defendant to divulge knowledge. Put simply, a Circuit Court judge has ruled that a criminal defendant can be compelled to reveal their fingerprint but not the passcode, so that police could search their mobile phone.

The ruling was made in the case of Emergency Medical Services captain David Baust who got charged earlier this year with trying to strangle his girlfriend.

Prosecutors wanted a judge to force Baust to unlock his phone, which they thought contained footage from the camera in Baust’s bedroom where he fought his girlfriend.

Baust’s attorney James Broccoletti said that phone passcodes are protected by the Fifth Amendment, which prohibits forced self-incrimination.

Judge Steven C. Frucci sided with Broccoletti. A phone passcode, he ruled, requires the defendant to divulge knowledge, which the law protects against.

iPhone-6-space-gray-Touch-IDAs for fingerprints, the judge likened forcing a defendant to unlock the device using their finger to providing a DNA or handwriting sample or an actual key, which the law permits.

But what if a phone is protected with both a passcode and fingerprint data, like the iPhone 5s, iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus? In that case, the phone would remain locked under Frucci’s ruling (though an appeal is possible).

What’s your take on this interesting topic?

Should a warrant be upheld no matter what? And is this a groundless ruling that will only serve to protect criminals, do you think?

About Justin Heintz

Hi there! Justin is currently 23 years old and was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and is the Digital Media Director for 88.7 The Pulse.