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Google Refuses to Unlock Smartphone, Despite Search Warrant

By Deanne Katz, Esq. | Last updated on

It's hard to unlock a smartphone without the password and Google apparently won't help the FBI figure it out.

Earlier this year, the FBI served Google with a search warrant asking them to unlock a smartphone that belonged to a suspect. But Google refused to acquiesce to the request although they won't say why, reports The Wall Street Journal.

That specific case has been resolved but the larger issue of whether smartphone companies must provide passwords is still up in the air.

Some states have already allowed law enforcement to search suspect's cell phones pursuant to arrest. But with users that lock their smartphones it's difficult for anyone to get the information.

Forcing suspects to turn over the password clashes with the Fifth Amendment which means the information may not be admissible in court, according to The Wall Street Journal.

To get around that issue, law enforcement officials have tried to turn to the smartphone makers for help in unlocking the phones. But they aren't getting much help in their endeavor.

Apple has publicly said that they won't give out user's personal information, including a password, even in the face of a warrant. They will unlock the phone if required but only with a valid search warrant.

Some smartphone makers don't collect or save user passwords so they're unable to help law enforcement break into a locked phone.

Google has not announced a general policy on the issue although when questioned on this case they mentioned the need 'to protect user policy,' reports The Wall Street Journal.

Smartphone data is just one of the areas where technological possibilities have outstripped the pace of new legislation. Courts are left trying to apply old laws to new situations without a lot of guidance.

These kinds of issues affect everyone so it might not be a bad idea to let your clients know what's happening in this area of law. It's a good marketing strategy for existing clients and may bring some new business your way.

This situation was resolved without additional legal proceedings against Google but that doesn't mean it will always be that way. Law enforcement will likely continue to seek ways to unlock suspect's smartphones until the law tells them otherwise.

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