Can the Utah Police Get into a Locked iPhone?

Salt Lake City criminal lawyer

As cell phones have evolved into devices containing all of our most intimate personal information, consumers have understandably become worried about the privacy of their data on these machines. There have been high-profile incidents of hacking where people’s credit card information, social security numbers, and other personal information have been stolen from cell phones and used without their owner’s permission.

Apple has responded to this by creating encryption software that makes it extremely difficult for hackers to break into locked iPhones. This has led to clashes with law enforcement agencies who want to access the locked iPhones of suspected criminals. Below, our experienced Salt Lake City criminal defense attorneys at Overson Law, PLLC explain when and how police can access your locked iPhone and how you can fight back against illegal or overbroad cell phone searches.

Can Police in Utah Access My Locked iPhone without My Assistance?

Police officers have the ability to access much of your cell phone data by requesting it from your cell phone service provider, such as Verizon or AT&T. These companies have access to your GPS location, which numbers you have been texting and calling, and more. However, a 2019 law passed by the Utah legislature has made it a requirement that police officers get a warrant before getting this information from the phone companies. Previously, they had been permitted to request the information without a warrant, and the phone companies would often comply with their requests.

Apple, on the other hand, has been fairly steadfast in its refusal to cooperate with law enforcement agencies in their attempts to get past its encryption technology and get into a locked iPhone. This has been true even in cases where the law enforcement agency has a warrant. Apple has stated that it will not compromise its customers’ privacy and security by giving law enforcement information about its encryption policies that it could use in the future to access the phones of others not suspected of crimes.

This has led to a protracted legal battle between Apple and the federal government. It started in full after the 2015 San Bernardino mass shooting. The perpetrator of that shooting died in a shootout with police and left behind a locked iPhone. Apple refused to assist the police in unlocking the phone so that they could scan it for information related to the shooter’s potential motivations. While the case played out in court, the FBI was able to hire a third-party hacking service that got into the iPhone, and so the case became moot.

In sum, it is unlikely that police are going to be able to get into your locked iPhone without your assistance. Apple does not believe it is obligated to help authorities beat their own security systems, and, while some third-party groups have the technology to get into locked iPhones without Apple’s help, this is a very complex and expensive process that most local police departments will not have the time or resources for.

Can Police in Utah Force Me to Unlock my iPhone if they Have a Warrant?

The police are entirely within their rights to make an application to a judge for a warrant to search the contents of your cell phone. If the warrant is granted, they can bring it to you and request that you enter your password to open the phone. However, they cannot physically force you to enter the password. If you refuse to comply with the order, you are likely to be charged with contempt and held in jail until you comply or the situation is resolved.

Once they have a warrant to search the phone, the police may also try to get into it by using the information they obtained during the booking process to try to trick the facial recognition software or fingerprint access software into allowing them into the phone. For example, if you use a fingerprint touch to unlock your phone, the police could create a mold of the fingerprint sample you provided when you were booked and use that to open the phone. Legal challenges to this method of accessing locked iPhones are ongoing.

How to Fight an Illegal Search of Your iPhone in Utah

Although there are laws protecting your digital data from unrestricted access by the police, it is not at all uncommon for police to simply ignore these laws and try to access your data anyway. One thing you should never do is consent to a search of your phone and willingly unlock it for the police without a warrant. Doing this will make it much tougher for a skilled search and seizure defense lawyer like those at Overson Law, PLLC to challenge the search as illegal down the line.

Our veteran Riverton City criminal defense attorneys can challenge illegal searches of your cell phone or accessing of its data through a third-party by filing what is known as a motion to suppress evidence. If such a motion is successful and the search process is ruled invalid or illegal, any evidence that resulted from that search will be excluded from being used against you in future criminal proceedings. There are many ways to argue a successful motion to suppress, from showing that exigent circumstances did not exist to justify the police going outside the warrant process, to demonstrating that the warrant was issued based on false or misleading information, to showing that the police exceeded the scope of the warrant’s authority.

If the Police are Trying to Get into Your Locked iPhone, Call Our Utah Criminal Defense Attorneys

While the Apple corporation has been firm in its commitment to safeguarding its users’ data, this does not mean that information stored on a locked iPhone is safe from the prying eyes of police officers. The police will try to use other ways, such as going through the cell-phone company or obtaining a warrant requiring you to enter your password, to get into a phone that they believe contains evidence of a crime. At Overson Law, PLLC, our criminal defense attorneys have years of experience fighting back against illegal and overbroad searches of our clients’ cell phones and digital data. We will work to get any illegally obtained evidence excluded and bring your case to a positive resolution. For a free consultation, call us today at (801) 758-2287.

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