Earlier this year, Google declined to unlock an Android phone after the Federal Bureau of Investigation served the company with a search warrant.
Many other technology companies will have to figure out how they plan to deal with such search warrants and demands to crack into smartphones, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Our laws haven't caught up to technology, so the legal battle is far from over. While the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the "Third Party Doctrine" -- where agents can use information stored through third parties without a search warrant -- a password is a much trickier proposition. A password would mean that law enforcement would have access to one's address books, email, photos and other personal information.
"Generally, we don't like the FBI to have access to our (house) keys even with a warrant," Paul Ohm, an associate professor at the University of Colorado Law School, told the WSJ.
The legalities are easier if law enforcement has possession of a phone, where it can download information by forensic tools. However, sometimes agents find encrypted data they can't crack and ask for a password. That kind of flies in the face of the Fifth Amendment, where people don't have to incriminate themselves.
Because of this, federal agencies are now turning to smartphone manufacturers such as Google and Apple to gain access by overriding passwords. The number of requests are unknown.
The Google case involved an alleged pimp and the FBI requesting to crack his Samsung Galaxy Exhibit. Stumped by a pattern lock on the phone, they obtained a search warrant issued to Google. Google refused to grant access, with its only comment being it was done to protect user privacy. (Since then, the FBI said the issue was resolved but provided no details.)
By granting access to any law enforcement agency, search warrant or not, Google loses customer loyalty and trust. Say what you will about the company, but not letting cops crack into your phone is a good thing. Sure, it would be easier to catch criminals, but it would also be easier for the government to put you or anyone under surveillance just under the mere hint of suspicion -- making us all guilty until proven innocent.
Published at 12:35 PM PDT on Sep 7, 2012