Can the Salt Lake City Police Get into a Locked iPhone?

Today’s cell phones are more akin to a miniature computer than the old-school flips phones that were mostly just used to make calls. In addition to emails and text messages, our phones contain our internet search histories, our credit card information, app usage, and other private data. There have been numerous incidents of hackers getting into people’s cell phones and stealing their information for personal financial gain.

In response to this, Apple has offered increased options to secure your phone, including fingerprint sensors and face scanners instead of just a passcode to get into the phone. While police agencies have tried to get Apple to cooperate with their attempts to get into the locked phones of suspected criminals, Apple has held fairly steadfast in its refusal to cooperate with attempts at police overriding their encryption systems.  Below, our experienced Salt Lake City criminal defense attorneys at Overson & Bugden explain how and when the police can access your locked iPhone and how you can fight back against unreasonable searches and seizures of your data.

How Police Could Access a Locked iPhone in Salt Lake City?

Generally speaking, Apple is not willing to provide police agencies with access to a locked iPhone and the information contained thereon. Even if the police have a warrant, Apple’s encryption technology generally prevents the police from gaining access to a locked phone. With a warrant, the officers can compel the suspect to enter a password and unlock the iPhone for them. Without a warrant, however, the officers essentially must rely on trying to convince the suspect to unlock the phone for them and give them consent to search it.

In some instances, the police have been using technology made by outside hacker groups to get into encrypted iPhones. The most famous example of this may be the case of the San Bernardino mass shooting in December 2015. The perpetrator of that attack died by police gunfire, and the police and FBI wanted to access his locked iPhone in order to see if it contained any evidence that might point to his motivations for committing the atrocity.

Apple, however, refused to comply with the FBI’s request to develop a way to get past its own encryption methods and allow the police to access the locked phone. This led to a protracted court battle that ended up being dropped when the federal government found a third-party company that was able to hack into the phone and retrieve its data without Apple’s help. In the years since, Apple and the government have continued to wage a legal battle regarding whether the company must reply to search warrants that require them to undermine their own security features.

What Happens if the Police Have a Search Warrant for a Phone in Salt Lake City?

Most times, assuming the owner of the iPhone is still alive and in police custody, the police will first attempt to obtain a search warrant compelling the owner of the phone to unlock it for them. When you are presented with such a warrant, you do have the option of declining to unlock the phone, because doing so is an “affirmative act” that the police cannot compel you to undertake. However, if the police have a valid warrant and you refuse to unlock the phone, they could charge you with contempt and hold you in prison until you comply with the warrant’s demands.

The police have often been able to get around this in cases where the phone is locked by methods other than password. For example, if you are using fingerprint technology, the police have in some cases created a mold of the fingerprints taken when you were brought into custody and used that to unlock the phone. Court cases regarding whether this is legal are ongoing, and an experienced Salt Lake City search and seizure attorney like those at Overson & Bugden can fight attempts by the police to use workarounds such as this to access your data.

Note that, even though Apple has not been cooperative with providing users’ personal data to the police, other companies, such as cell phone providers, have been much more willing to assist. Thus, the police may be able to access data about who you were texting, where you have been, and more, simply by going to the cell phone service provider and requesting their records on your cell phone usage.

How to Fight Against Cell Phone Searches in Salt Lake City

Whether or not the police obtain a warrant, a skilled Utah criminal defense lawyer like those at Overson & Bugden can fight any search of your iPhone. We will file what is known as a motion to suppress arguing that the initial search warrant was not properly granted or, in the cases of a warrantless search, that exigent circumstances were not present to justify the officers acting without a warrant. If the motion is successful, any evidence procured by way of the illegal search will be excluded from being used against you in any court proceedings.

An attorney can also fight contempt charges filed against you if you refuse to unlock your phone on the basis of a warrant issued. Finally, if you consented to the search, an attorney can argue that your consent was given under duress or was invalid for some other reason and that evidence obtained in the subsequent search must be excluded.

Call our Salt Lake City Criminal Defense Attorneys About Police Access to Your iPhone

While Apple has been consistent in its refusal to allow the government to breach its encryption technology, this does not mean that the police are not going to find some other way to get to the data on your locked iPhone if they feel it is important to a criminal case they are investigating. This leads to many situations where the police act outside their legal authority to access such information. An experienced West Valley City criminal defense attorney like those on the team at Overson & Bugden can fight against any unlawful access of your private data. We will file a motion to suppress and fight in and out of court to ensure that your privacy rights are respected. For a free, confidential consultation, call our office today at (801) 758-2287.