The U.S. government may have failed in demanding Apple unlock the phones of users, but now a judge is taking a different approach — ordering the users themselves to unlock their phones. A Florida judge has ruled that two defendants in a “sextortion” case must hand over the passwords to their phones, allowing officials to search them.
In the case, reality TV stars Hencha Voigt and her ex-boyfriend Wesley Victor, were accused of threatening the release of sexually explicit images of social media star Julieanna Goddard, unless she paid a ransom of $18,000 within 24 hours.
According to Voigt and Victor, who have pleaded not guilty to the charges, demanding them to unlock the phones breaks their constitutional rights, however, Judge Charles Johnson argues that he is following the law.
“For me, this is like turning over a key to a safety deposit box,” argued the judge, according to a report from the BBC.
The defendants were arrested in July and their phones were seized after police intercepted messages sent to Goddard. Prosecutors, however, have been unable to unlock the phones to search for more evidence. As a result, they are formally asking the court to order that the defendants hand over their passwords. The defendants now have two weeks to comply with the order.
The case is somewhat reminiscent of the San Bernardino, California, shooting when the courts ordered Apple to unlock the phone of the shooters. Apple refused, arguing that it would set a dangerous precedent for future cases. The FBI then reportedly found hackers that were able to break into the phone without Apple’s help.
Both of the cases raise interesting questions surrounding data privacy and the issue has certainly sparked controversy. Newer phones, however, are encrypted in a way that even Apple and Google can’t bypass, causing the debate to shift to whether or not manufacturers should have to build so-called “backdoors” into their software, through which they could bypass a phone’s security.
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