The New Jersey State Supreme Court has ruled that courts can force individuals to give up the passwords to their personal electronic devices, if they have reason to believe that person may likely have committed a crime.
Failure to comply would subject the individual to civil contempt, where in New Jersey they can be jailed for 6 months without right to a trial, or up to 18 months and a $10,000 fine if they are convicted of contempt of court (which is itself a crime).
It would be one thing if the police simply grabbed by force someone's computer or phone to see what was on it (after they obtained a search warrant).
But it is another thing entirely to threaten to put someone in prison if they do not tell you what their password is.
The New Jersey Supreme Court claimed this was not a violation of the Fifth Amendment, which says that an individual does not have to tell the court about a crime they committed.
In this specific case, it was an iPhone that belonged to a former police officer.
They had caught another man who had been involved in selling drugs, and in exchange for the prosecutor filing less charges against him, this man was willing to rat out his friend, the former police officer.
Allegedly, the former police officer had alerted his friend, whom he knew was involved in selling drugs, that there had recently been an (unrelated) drug bust and that police were conducting wiretaps. He also informed his friend that the license plate number of a car that his friend believed was following him likely belonged to law enforcement.
In New Jersey, both of these acts constitute crimes, and the former police officer was charged with "official misconduct, hindering, and obstruction".
These alleged crimes were the basis of the search warrant compelling the man (the former police officer) to give up his phone's password to law enforcement, so they could see if he had sent messages to his friend trying to help him avoid being caught.
If you are curious and want more specifics about this case, that information is posted on another thread in this forum:
MAN JAILED FOR REFUSING TO GIVE POLICE PASSWORD TO PERSONAL COMPUTER FILES
(page 2, date 16 Nov 2020 )
Anyway, it's things like this that really bothering me, and I'm hoping to maybe see some of your opinions here telling me there is nothing wrong with this and it is perfectly normal.
Maybe I am just too Libertarian on issues like this? (Or maybe some of you will agree with me?)
It seems like another example of Orwellian / totalitarianism. Government threatening people to give up their passwords, and it's all about access to personal information.
I can maybe understand this legal policy being used for things like murder and kidnapping, but some of these alleged crimes for which search warrants are being obtained didn't even used to be crimes many years ago.