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?