Fifth Amendment doesn’t protect passwords, Florida court rules


Criminal defendants and witnesses in the US can plead the Fifth to avoid self-incrimination in testimony. However, in a case involving a password and a locked iPhone, a court in Florida ruled that passwords are not protected by the Fifth Amendment and should be disclosed. The ruling contradicts other cases in its interpretation of the Fifth Amendment in relation to mobile devices, affecting privacy rights.

Aaron Stahl was allegedly caught using his iPhone to take pictures under a woman’s skirt. The court ruled that law enforcement could force him to reveal the passcode to his smartphone to aid the investigation. Although the initial trial ruling was in his favor, Florida’s Second District Court of Appeals disagreed, according to the BBC.

Judge Anthony Black referred to the Supreme Court case of Doe v US 1988 when the defendant released the key to a strongbox with incriminating information, but could not be forced to give away the safe combination.

“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,” Judge Anthony Black wrote in the court’s decision. “More importantly, we question the continuing viability of any distinction as technology advances.”

Criticizing the decision, Mark Rumold, attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation said “this is not the first time this issue has come up in the courts and I think other courts have done a better job of evaluating the Fifth Amendment and the constitutional rights that are at stake.”

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