Would you comply with a police officer’s request for your smartphone password?

Even if a suspect password-protects his or her phone, police still have some ways of getting into it. iStockphoto

“Suspects’ smartphones contain a wealth of information: calls, photos, GPS data. With so much info, it’s often all police need to make a case,” writes NPR’s Martin Kaste.

Under the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination, you might have the right to refuse a request for your smartphone password. But Jeffrey Fisher, a Stanford Law School professor, says the courts haven’t settled that issue, so withholding your phone’s password could prove risky.

“You can have anything from contempt of court to obstruction of justice,” Fisher says. “All kinds of other problems.” …

“If you use the alphanumeric passcode, even Apple can’t get in,” says Will Strafach, a hacker who works with companies that make forensic tools for police. He’s referring to the longer passwords that are optional on iPhones but also more cumbersome to use.

It’s also a slow process. When the newest iPhones are sent to Apple, police may have to wait months for whatever data are recovered, Strafach says.

With Google’s Android phones, things are looser. Encryption is optional and the basic screen passcode (or “pattern lock”) operates more as a deterrent for the nosy. You can choose longer passwords, but any of them can be circumvented with the user’s Google username and password. With a warrant, the police should be able to get those login credentials from Google.

Today’s Question: Would you comply with a police officer’s request for your smartphone password?

  • Erik

    Not without a warrant.

  • º¿º

    Never talk to the police and never give out your passwords.

    • Never talk to the police? What if you needed their help, or your knowledge could help a neighbor?

      • Joe

        I think he meant without a lawyer, which is great advice. As for someone’s “knowledge” being able to help the neighbor, they have to have a clear reason why that knowledge might be on a cell phone. Moreover, the evidence should be more than the fact that two people have called 1-800-FLOWERS in the past. Two hops! It’s like six degrees of Osama bin Laden

      • Luke

        The supreme court has upheld that it is not the responsibility of police to help or protect you. Every time you talk to them, it can be used against you. It doesn’t matter how much you want them to be a “protect and serve” organization. They are there to enforce statutory law, if at any point in communicating with them you imply you have breached those rules, they are required to act on that and use that communication against you. It does not matter how good of a reason you had to be talking to them.

        If you have a problem, call a Sheriff. At least they are still somewhat answerable to the public.

    • Pearly

      snitches get stitches

  • kevins

    Well…..I choose not to have a smart phone, but if I did, I would not feel comfortable sharing my password with anyone, even if they say “please”.

  • PaulJ

    Yep. Unless you have a lawyer on speed dial, you do what the cops ask or they take you downtown and throw you in with the perverts and the drunks.

  • Anon

    Most effective and safest response is to say nothing except “I want to talk to my lawyer.”

    • Joe

      Don’t worry, you can talk to your lawyer when you’re safely at Guantanamo Bay, just don’t expect to see the judge.

  • Andrew J Henderson

    Absolutely not. I would never allow Law Enforcement to go through my effects without a warrant. If Law Enforcement has access to your mobile device, than most likely they would have access to your contact list, email, Facebook, etc. Many of us store personal and sensitive information(text messages and pictures) on our mobile devices that we would not want a stranger looking into. The only way I would ever give up my password is with a warrant, and I would encourage others to do the same.

    • PaulJ

      Your photo has shows a man with a badge. Is this advice from an officer?

      • Andrew J Henderson

        No, not at all. I just spend considerable time in the Law Enforcement community.

  • JQP

    on android phones there is a factory reset. wipes everything on the phone.
    or you can set up an AutoWipe App ,,, that clears your phone based on certain criteria… check this llink , 2nd item
    http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/five-apps/five-apps-to-wipe-data-from-your-android-phone/

  • Lisa

    No

  • KTN

    Absent a warrant, no possible way I would give the police my password(s).

  • MEL

    They only way they are getting into my phone is with a valid warrant. No warrant, no password.

  • Joe

    Probable cause or warrant

  • Courtney Walkup

    Ideally, I wouldn’t allow it unless they possess a warrant or a valid, reasonable cause for doing so. Unfortunately, were the situation were to present itself, I fear I might blindly follow the cops bidding due to me being a total scaredy-cat.

  • Bill

    No warrant No password, and maybe I just forgot.

  • Jim G

    Of course not. Why would I give up my rights voluntarily when generations have fought to uphold them? If you are under investigation by the Police, don’t cooperate with your own prosecution, demand an attorney.

  • AndyBriebart

    “Of course not. Why would I give up my rights voluntarily when generations have fought to uphold them? ”

    Do you feel that way about the 2nd Amendment?

    • KTN

      The Court today, in a unanimous decision practiced some old time gun control. (U.S. v. Castleman). Ouch, a unanimous decision too.

    • Jim G

      Not’s not the same thing, even remotely. The 2nd amendment is not in jeopardy. However, everyday poor, economically disadvantaged citizens fail to invoke their right to have representation of an attorney, and as a result they incur felony convictions, which effectively follow them the rest of their life

      • Gary F

        I guess you haven’t been following what is happening in Connecticut or New York state. Will the government come for their guns?

        • Jim G

          Gary, I wouldn’t worry about it. The “Be afraid, be very afraid, that the governments are coming to take you away.. HA…HA… and your guns too,..my little pretty.” is not a convincing nor honest argument that works on this hunter and gun owner.

          • AndyBriebart

            The Second Amendment isn’t about hunting.

            http://rt.com/usa/connecticut-gun-law-registration-791/

          • Jim G

            I am a gun owner too… used to hunt… animals.

          • Gary F

            I still hunt, but that isn’t why the Second Amendment was written.

          • Joe

            I don’t own a gun, but if I ever do it certainly won’t be to hunt animals, it will be to wait patiently for the revolutionary vanguard to sweep me away to join their forces fend off a tyrannical government! You know, the kind that checks out your phone for nebulous and unspecified reasons…

          • Pearly

            You and I both know the Government does not what your Grand dads Winchester shotgun.

          • Joe

            Of course they don’t, they want your hunting Berettas!

          • Hey Der

            @disqus_vVG3Vu4X2k:disqus, They are, in fact, seriously considering it in Connecticut.

            http://imageshack.com/a/img35/4528/ynak.jpg

          • Pearly

            Is this convincing or honest?

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ffI-tWh37UY

          • Joe

            I think Dianne Feinstein is one of the least convincing and honest senators, really. I like how she was upset that the CIA was spying on her… she was probably upset because she knows that’s the FBI’s job!

  • Mark in Ohio

    If they have a warrant, I’ll produce the unlock code, otherwise no. I would also think that it would be subject to a fifth amendment argument to avoid self-incrimination. That said, I don’t know if I would be able to hold out against the pressure and threats that no doubt would be applied if I came under the suspicion of the authorities. Having to surrender your password smacks of being guilty until you prove your innocence.

    When did our free society become subject to random searches and having
    to produce your ID to go somewhere. I remember these being features of
    evil/fascist/communist regimes in movies when I was growing up.

    • KTN

      In Minnesota there is no expectation to produce an ID while walking down the street (or anywhere on public property). You only have to tell them your name (you can’t lie and tell them you are Homer Simpson for example), but that is all the law requires here. Now some might argue it’s foolish to resist, and the police can make it uncomfortable for you, but that decision is up to you.

      • Mark in Ohio

        Maybe I’m off base in MN, but I was thinking more generally. Stop and frisk in NY, I’ve personally seen mid-day ID checkpoints in PA and NC, metal detectors in more and more facilities, and more and more security in private businesses. I just find it both depressing and a bit alarming at the same time.

  • John in Meeker County

    If they have a warrant, yes. Otherwise, No, have a nice day officer. –I doubt they would share their password with us.

  • Not without a warrant and a call to “Saul.”

  • Charlene Roseth

    Not without a warrant

  • David

    Not without a warrant, a call to my lawyer… and/or I might be tempted, if it was the guys from Adam 12.