New Jersey Supreme Court Finds Passcode Disclosure Testimonial, But Allows Compelled Decryption of Cell Phone

August 10, 2020

The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled today in State v. Andrews that an exception to the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination allows the government to compel decryption of a cell phone if the government has a valid search warrant and knows the identity of the phone’s owner. The court determined that compelled disclosure of a passcode is a testimonial act, but found that the foregone conclusion exception can apply to force decryption under certain circumstances. Importantly, the court stressed that, because the scope of the search in this case was very narrow, the decision did not license a “fishing expedition.” The court also signaled that it would apply the same restrictions to biometric passcodes as alphanumeric passcodes, stating that applying different standards to the two types of passcodes would be “problematic.” EPIC filed an amicus brief and presented oral argument in the case. Citing Riley v. California and Carpenter v. United States, EPIC argued that the vast troves of personal data stored in cell phones “justifies strong constitutional protections.” During oral argument, EPIC urged the court to adopt one rule for biometric and alphanumeric passcodes.

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