Florida Appeals Court Rules Suspected Voyeur Must Provide iPhone Passcode To Police

An appeals court in Florida has overturned a previous ruling that stated a man suspected of voyeurism should not be compelled to give up the passcode to his iPhone as it violate the Fifth Amendment and force him to testify against himself. The appeals court disagreed with that ruling and has ordered the iPhone owner to provide his four-digit passcode to law enforcement.

Police arrested Aaron Stahl after a woman who was out shopping allegedly saw him bend down and extend and an illuminated mobile phone under her skirt. Court records say that when she confronted Stahl about the incident, he claimed to have dropped his phone. He then ran out of the store when the woman called out for help. Police were able to identify the suspect by his car's license plate number arrested him.

iPhone

Stahl initially gave authorities verbal consent to search his handset, an iPhone 5 made by Apple, but changed his mind before giving them the passcode. A motion filed against Stahl to force him to fork over the passcode was ruled against by a trial judge before being overturned in by a three-judge panel in appeals court.

"Providing the passcode does not ‘betray any knowledge [Stahl] may have about the circumstances of the offenses’ for which he is charged," Judge Anthony Black said. "Thus, ‘compelling a suspect to make a nonfactual statement that facilitates the production of evidence’ for which the state has otherwise obtained a warrant based upon evidence independent of the accused’s statements linking the accused to the crime does not offend the privilege."

This is an issue that is oft debated in the modern era as it relates to technology. In a 1988 Supreme Court ruling, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that a person can be "forced to surrender a key to a strongbox containing incriminating evidence documents," but can't "be compelled to reveal the combination to this wall safe." The ongoing debate is whether providing a passcode to a smartphone amounts to the same thing.

What is tricky about the iPhone is that authorities have only a limited number of times to guess the passcode. After 10 failed attempts, the iPhone locks up permanently and deletes its contents.

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