Can the Police Force You to Give up the Password to Your Phone?

Law Office of W.F. ''Casey'' Ebsary Jr
Can Police Force You to Give Up iPhone Password?

“we are not inclined to believe that the Fifth Amendment should provide greater protection to individuals who passcode protect their iPhones “

A court in Florida just ruled that a defendant could be forced to provide the password to his iPhone. A distinction is important – they got a search warrant. Without a warrant, the case may have been decided in favor of protecting the phone owner’s privacy. The phone had a cracked screen and had been allegedly used to take photographs that would have been useful in the prosecution of the phone’s owner. You can review a typical iPhone Search Warrant here. At the bottom of this article are numerous other articles we have written on this topic.

Right to Remain Silent

Usually, we think that we have a right not to incriminate ourselves. However, this Florida Court in the Tampa Bay area ruled that providing the password did not constitute testimony against one’s self. In a convoluted 19-page ruling the court found that while there may be evidence of a crime, providing the passcode was not testimonial.

Here Are Some Excerpts from the iPhone Court’s Ruling.

“That an accused may be “forced to surrender a key to a strongbox containing incriminating documents,” but he cannot “be compelled to reveal the combination to his wall safe,” Doe, 487 U.S. at 219 (Stevens, J., dissenting), is another often repeated quote. See, e.g., Hubbell, 530 U.S. at 43; Doe, 487 U.S. at 210 n.9; In re Grand Jury, 670 F.3d at 1345; Kirschner, 823 F. Supp. 2d at 669. Despite the many cases referencing the quote, we have found none that provide details of “surrender[ing] a key.” 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. More importantly, we question the continuing viability of any distinction as technology advances. See Fisher, 425 U.S. at 407 (“Several of Boyd[ v. United States, 116 U.S. 616 (1886)]’s express or implicit declarations have not stood the test of time.”). In that respect, we are not inclined to believe that the Fifth Amendment should provide greater protection to individuals who passcode protect their iPhones with letter and number . . . . ”

“In this case, the communication was sought only for its content and the content has no other value or significance.11 By providing the passcode, Stahl would not be acknowledging that the phone contains evidence of video voyeurism. See Doe, 487 U.S. at 215. Moreover, although the passcode would allow the State access to the phone, and therefore to a source of potential evidence, the State has a warrant to search the phone—the source of evidence had already been uncovered. See id. Providing the passcode does not “betray any knowledge [Stahl] may have about the circumstances of the offenses” for which he is charged. See id. at 219 (Stevens, J., dissenting). It does not implicitly “relate a factual assertion or disclose information.””

“The Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination has been held to apply not only to verbal and written communications but also to the production of documents, usually in response to a subpoena or summons, because the act of production itself could communicate incriminatory statements. See Fisher, 425 U.S. at 410. The courts that have addressed the Fifth Amendment implications for providing decryption keys and passcodes have largely applied the act-of-production doctrine and the foregone conclusion exception. See, e.g., Sec. & Exch. Comm’n v. Huang, No. 15-269, 2015 WL 5611644, *1 (E.D. Penn. Sept. 23, 2015); United States v. Fricosu, 841F. Supp. 2d 1232, 1235 (D. Col. 2012); In re Grand Jury Subpoena to Boucher (In re Boucher), 2:06-MJ-91, 2009 WL 424718, *2-3 (D. Vt. Feb. 19, 2009); Gelfgatt, 11 N.E.3d at 612; Commonwealth v. Baust, 89 Va. Cir. 267 (Va. Cir. Ct. 2014). But see United States v. Kirschner, 823 F. Supp. 2d 665, 669 (E.D. Mich. 2010) (concluding that providing the password was testimony protected by the privilege against self-incrimination).”

“Invoking the privilege still requires the accused to establish compulsion, a testimonial communication, and incrimination. And as we have said, in this case compulsion and incrimination are not at issue, leaving only the testimonial element. Testimonial elements of production include (1) the existence of the documents, (2) the accused’s possession or control of the documents, and (3) the authenticity of the documents. Hubbell, 530 U.S. at 36.”

“The difficult question whether a compelled communication is testimonial for purposes of applying the Fifth Amendment often depends on the facts and circumstances of the particular case.” Doe, 487 U.S. at 214-15. Here, the trial court rested its determination that producing the passcode would be testimonial exclusively on the concept that production would require “the use of the contents” of Stahl’s mind. The phrase “the contents of the accused’s mind” has often been repeated in cases discussing the privilege. See, e.g., Hubbell, 530 U.S. at 43; Doe, 487 U.S. at 211; In re Grand Jury, 670 F.3d at 1345; Kirschner, 823 F. Supp. 2d at 669. And although the trial court correctly quoted the Eleventh Circuit’s statement in In re Grand Jury, that “[t]he touchstone of whether an act of production is testimonial is whether the government compels the individual to use ‘the contents of his own mind’ to explicitly or implicitly communicate some statement of fact,” 670 F.3d at 1345, the trial court did not consider the law as stated in Hubbell and Doe—that the contents of the accused’s mind must be “extensive[ly] use[d]” in creating the response, Hubbell, 530 U.S. at 43, or must “relat[e] him to the offense,” Doe, 487 U.S. at 2013.10 That is, “it is not enough that the compelled communication is sought for its content. The content itself must have testimonial significance.” Doe, 487 U.S. at 211 n.10 (emphasis added) (first citing Fisher, 425 U.S. at 408; then citing Gilbert v. California, 388 U.S. 263, 267 (1967); and then citing United States v. Wade, 388 U.S. 218, 222 (1967)). ”

“Although the phrase “the use of the contents of the accused’s mind” has been used in act-of-production cases, we note that the case cited by the Eleventh Circuit for its proposition that the use of the contents of the accused’s mind is the touchstone of whether an act of production is testimonial does not so hold. Curcio v. United States, 354 U.S. 118 (1957), provides that there “is a great difference” between compelled production of documents and compelled testimony, specifying that testifying as to the location of documents “requires him to disclose the contents of his own mind.” Id. at 127-28. ”

Source: STATE OF FLORIDAv AARON STAHL Case No. 2D14-4283 Opinion filed December 7, 2016.

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