Technology companies and the U.S. government are fighting over whether law enforcement agents can obtain phone passwords of suspects.
Agents usually have equipment to download data from a phone without the need to unlock it. However, agents are occasionally unable to break into the phone or the data is encrypted, so they can submit a grand jury subpoena to the owner asking them to provide their password.
In March of this year, Google rejected the FBI’s request to unlock an alleged pimp’s Android cell phone even though the FBI had a search warrant. The phone of the suspect, who lived in Chula Vista, had a pattern lock that agents could not crack.
Currently, legal standards for new technologies are imprecise. The Supreme Court’s Third Party Doctrine lets agents obtain data stored with third parties without a search warrant. However, it does not include sensitive data, like a password. Also, the Fifth Amendment protects people from self-incrimination. Thus, passwords and password-protected data cannot be used to prosecute suspects.