Man ordered to enter his iPhone PIN in criminal investigation or face jail time

The Massachusetts Appeals Court ruled today a man under investigation by a grand jury in Middlesex County can be ordered to unlock his iPhone for investigators, in part because he's already told them what sort of information they might find there.

The court, ruling in the case of a man under investigation for assault and battery on two children in Lowell, said that the Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination does not apply in cases where the information investigators would find is "a foregone conclusion."

A superior-court judge had stayed an order sending the man to jail pending his appeal; today's ruling means he has to comply or go to jail until he relents.

In this case, the Middlesex County District Attorney's office had previously submitted evidence that the man owned the iPhone in question and:

[T]he Commonwealth demonstrated sufficient knowledge to show that the factual statements that the petitioner's act of entering his PIN code would convey are foregone conclusions. As summarized in the grand jury materials submitted to the judge under seal, the Commonwealth already knew that the iPhone contained files that were relevant to its investigation based, in part, on information provided by the petitioner. In addition, the Commonwealth knew that a PIN code was necessary to access the iPhone, that the petitioner possessed and controlled the iPhone, and that the petitioner knows the PIN code and is able to enter it. Accordingly, the Commonwealth established independently and with specificity the authenticity, existence, and possession of the compelled information.

Thus, the order does not require the petitioner to communicate information that would fall within constitutional self-incrimination protection. The affidavit in support of the search warrant application established that the Commonwealth had probable cause to believe that the iPhone contained evidence of the crimes that are the subject of the grand jury investigation. The order simply allows execution of that warrant.

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Comments

Can't anyone claim "I don't

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Can't anyone claim "I don't recall"? It's impossible to repudiate that.

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Voting is closed. 27

True enough

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Every online human has at one point had to click, "Forgot my password".

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They're going feel silly

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They're going feel silly going through all of that trouble just to learn that the code is actually 1234.

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What's stopping the guy

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From just deleting whatever it is on his phone that they want? Or 'dropping' it in the toilet or something?

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That's some backwards logic.

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That's some backwards logic.

If the info on the phone is really a foregone conclusion, then the investigators already know it and have independent proof of it, so they don't need it to prove their case.

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Wasn't this already settled law?

I was under the impression that it was already settled law [Supreme Court, maybe?] that one could be compelled to provide a fingerprint to unlock a phone, because that was analogous to providing a key to open a safe for which the police have a valid warrant, but that one could not be compelled to provide a password, because a password is just information, not a physical thing, and information is testimony, which cannot be compelled????

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Unsettled Law

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This isn’t settled law yet and has divergent rulings in different courts.

You are right that the Supreme Court has held that divulging your password would be akin to self-incrimination and you cannot be compelled under the 5th amendment.

However a few lower courts have rules a fingerprint is not a password and may be compelled, though others have reached the opposite conclusion.though actually I think this has actually been a judgment on a warrant, not a final court judgement...

The bigger challenge is most phones won’t unlock with a fingerprint / face scan after 24 hours. So if you get busted today but it takes prosecutors 2 days to get a court order to use your finger to unlock your phone, they’re SOL.

Which brings us back to the aforementioned SC prescedent to where you cannot be compelled to give up a password.

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