Early this year, we all watched the legal battle between Apple and the FBI unfold about access to the iPhone 5C used in the 2015 San Bernardino massacre. The feud ended, at least temporarily, on March 28 when the FBI withdrew its case from the courts after a third-party managed to unlock the device. With no real resolution provided, additional court cases have popped up surrounding the critical issue of digital privacy, and this month, the Florida Court of Appeals ruled that the government can force an iPhone user to release the passcode to unlock his/her phone.
In the case, State vs. Stahl, Florida resident Aaron Stahl was charged with video voyeurism after surveillance video allegedly captured him taking pictures up the skirt of a woman in a store with his smartphone. Though police obtained a warrant for the iPhone 5 that was supposedly used to capture the photos, they were unable to access the phone’s content because the device was password protected. The defendant refused to provide his passcode, citing his Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination.
Initially, a trial judge sided with Stahl. However, the State then filed a motion to force Stahl to give up the password alleging there was no Fifth Amendment implication in doing so. Judge Anthony Black ruled in favor of the State. As ZDNet reported, this Florida ruling deviates from those in similar cases tried in Pennsylvania and Colorado, which concluded that surrendering a password to law enforcement is indeed considered self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment.
According to an article from TechRepublic, this digital privacy battle continues to rage on in numerous other instances as well:
“In March, the American Civil Liberties Union found the government has 63 confirmed cases and up to 13 additional ones in which the government applied for an order ‘to compel Apple or Google to provide assistance in accessing data stored on a mobile device’ since 2008. These cases primarily involved investigations into drug crimes, the group stated.”
Furthermore, the New York District Attorney released a report just last month asking for legislation that would require mobile device manufacturers to create operating systems with easier access to user data in order for government organizations to gain access when search warrants come into play. Those on the other side of the issue fear that these intrusions into digital privacy will create a slippery slope, making it easier for abuses of power and potentially leading to the exploitation of device users based on race or religion. They also fear that the Florida court ruling may impact how other courts apply the Fifth Amendment in cases surrounding mobile devices.
As an organization, we encourage you to protect your business and its employees by incorporating enterprise mobility management (EMM) and mobile device usage policies (MDUP) to steer clear of such privacy questions. Contact us with any questions or for assistance implementing these solutions.