Giancola-Durkin, P.A.

Phone passwords raise new questions regarding police investigations

What police can and can’t do during investigations is a critical issue. It touches on a wide range of things, from the fairness of the justice system to people’s rights. In recent years, new technologies have raised all kinds of new questions when it comes to this issue.

One device that is at the center of many such questions is the cellphone. Modern smartphones can contain all sorts of data on a person’s life and activities. This can put these devices in the crosshairs of police during investigations.

Smartphones are among the things police sometimes get warrants to search when they suspect a person of wrongdoing, such as drug crimes. Now, often, cellphones are encrypted by things such as passwords or biometrics (like fingerprint scanning). Police efforts to get past such encryption have generated a range of privacy concerns and questions.

One area of such debate is whether police should be allowed to compel people to provide their password or fingerprint to unlock a phone so police can search it. Currently, the law around this issue is very unsettled here in the United States. The states vary in how developed their law is on this topic and what conclusions their courts have reached on it.

Proponents of allowing police to compel passwords argue it is needed for police to effectively conduct investigations in today’s digital world. Opponents argue it opens the door for people’s rights and privacy to be violated.

One wonders what will happen as the law on this topic develops throughout the U.S. and which side of this debate will ultimately prevail. What do you think states should do when it comes to this issue?

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