Latest in Gear

Image credit: RayaHristova via Getty Images

Pennsylvania court rules suspect can't be forced to provide his password

It's a win for civil liberties advocates.
369 Shares
Share
Tweet
Share
Save

Sponsored Links

RayaHristova via Getty Images

Law enforcment might soon have a harder time forcing suspects to unlock their devices. Pennsylvania's Supreme Court has ruled that authorities were asking Joseph J. Davis, the accused in a child pornography case, to violate his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when they asked him to provide the password for his computer. A lower court had determined that the request fell under an exemption to the Fifth Amendment when Davis seemingly acknowledged the presence of child porn on his PC, but the state Supreme Court rejected that argument on the grounds that a password is testimony and thus protected under the Constitution.

Justice Debra Todd noted that revealing a password is testimonial as it's a "verbal communication" that reveals your mind, not just a physical act like providing a blood sample. It also pointed to federal Supreme Court precedent where people couldn't be forced to reveal the combination to a wall safe -- in both cases, divulging the code was opening a "pathway" to incrimination.

The decision pleased advocacy groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which wrote a friend-of-the-court briefing in the case. It noted that people store a "wealth of deeply personal information" on their devices, and that the government shouldn't force people into a "no-win situation" where they either have to reveal everything or resist a court order.

As Ars Technica observed, the Fifth Amendment isn't a guaranteed shield against providing your password. It may depend on the particular circumstances of the case. So long as the ruling (along with expected ones in New Jersey and Indiana) stands, though, police may have to accept that they won't always get a password -- they may have to crack a device if they want to see what it contains.

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
Comment
Comments
Share
369 Shares
Share
Tweet
Share
Save

Popular on Engadget

PewDiePie is 'taking a break' from YouTube in 2020

PewDiePie is 'taking a break' from YouTube in 2020

View
Ads on Facebook are spreading misinformation about anti-HIV drugs

Ads on Facebook are spreading misinformation about anti-HIV drugs

View
VW will roll out self-driving electric shuttles in Qatar's capital

VW will roll out self-driving electric shuttles in Qatar's capital

View
Two men plead guilty to running large illegal streaming sites

Two men plead guilty to running large illegal streaming sites

View
The best plug-in smart outlet

The best plug-in smart outlet

View

From around the web

Page 1Page 1ear iconeye iconFill 23text filevr