Remember Ramona Fricosu? A Colorado woman was ordered to unlock her encrypted Toshiba laptop while the FBI was investigating alleged mortgage fraud in 2012, but she declined to decrypt the laptop saying that she did not remember the password.
Later the United States Court ruled that Police can force defendants to decrypt their electronic devices, of course, as it does not violate the Fifth Amendment that prevents any citizen from having to incriminate themselves.
Forgetting passwords for your electronic devices could be a smart move to avoid complying with a court order, but not every time, as US judges have different opinions on how to punish those who do not compel the order to unlock their phones.
On a single day last week, one defendant got six months jail for allegedly refusing to reveal his iPhone passcode, while a second defendant walks through after he claimed he forgot his passcode.
A Florida circuit court judge ruled last week that child abuse defendant Christopher Wheeler, 41, must serve 180 days in jail for not handing over the correct 4-digit code to unlock his iPhone to police, while he insisted that the passcode he gave to officers was correct.
“I swear, under oath, I’ve given [the detectives] the password,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler was arrested earlier this year for allegedly hitting and scratching his daughter. He was taken into custody in a Broward Circuit Court on Tuesday after the cops were not able to access the phone using the passcode provided by him.
Investigators believe that the defendants iPhone may contain photos of his child’s injuries, according to the Miami Herald.
However, in a different court, another Florida judge let off an extortion case defendant, even though he also claimed to have forgotten the passcode for his BlackBerry phone.
Wesley Victor and his girlfriend Hencha Voigt (a reality TV personality) both are accused of threatening to release sex tapes stolen from local social media celeb YesJulz unless she paid $18,000.
“The judge made the right call,” Victor’s lawyer Zeljka Bozanic said. “My client testified he did not remember. It’s been almost a year. Many people, including myself, can’t remember passwords from a year ago.”
The sex tapes of YesJulz ended up on the Internet, but there is no evidence Victor or Voigt posted them online.
Voigt is also facing contempt of court charges and scheduled to appear in front of a judge next week because the passcode she provided to authorities for her phone was incorrect.
The Fifth Amendment gives defendants rights to not to say anything that could be used against them and a secret password or passcode is personal information protected by this amendment, but the above cases underscore the dilemma faced by law enforcement officials in dealing with the password and encryption issue.
It seems like the final word on passwords and encryption will likely have to come from the United States Supreme Court before.