It has been largely assumed that our smartphones are protected by the Fifth Amendment. This is why law enforcement agencies are frustrated with companies like Apple who have mostly refused to help them unlock the phones belonging to suspects. However, that could soon change as the New Jersey Supreme Court has potentially set a new precedent.
According to a recent ruling by the New Jersey Supreme Court, it appears that they have ruled that compelling a suspect to unlock their smartphone does not violate the Fifth Amendment. This is based on a case where the suspect was accused of secretly working with a street gang. When asked to unlock his phone, the suspect argued that doing so would violate his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.
However, the court rejected the argument and claimed that the Fifth Amendment only applied when the suspect is “compelled to make a testimonial communication that is incriminating”. The Fifth Amendment does not cover things like producing documents to be used as evidence in court, and the court has considered that the text and phone call contents on the suspect’s smartphone are documents.
Like we said, this will no doubt set a precedent for future cases where prosecutors could use this particular case as an example of why suspects can be compelled to unlock their smartphones.