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Phone Passcodes Fall Under Fifth Amendment Protection

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Oct 2, 2015, 3:35 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Law enforcement cannot force suspects to reveal the passcodes that protect their phones, according to a federal judge. The ruling was part of a case against former Citi employees accused of insider trading. The Securities and Exchange Commission believes proof of the insider trading details exists on the employees' smartphones. The employees refused to hand over their passwords to unlock the phones. U.S. District Judge Mark Kearney of Pennsylvania said the SEC's argument, that documents might be stored on the smartphones, does not compel the defendants to turn over their passwords. "We find, as the SEC is not seeking business records but Defendants' personal thought processes, Defendants may properly invoke their Fifth Amendment right" against self-incrimination. The ruling is the latest in myriad cases concerning the legality of data — and the accessibility thereof — that may or may not be stored on peoples' smartphones.

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