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Legislation needs a keyword to look at the lock screen of your smartphone, judging rules



Legislation needs a keyword just to look at the lock screen of your smartphone, Seattle judge rules as robbery suspect says FBI activated his phone and looked at screen

  • Judge Coughenour delivered a verdict in U.S. District Court in Seattle Monday in favor of Joseph Sam, who was arrested for robbery and assault in May 2019
  • Coughenour said that looking at an individual’s lock screen is classified as a search, which means law enforcement can’t do this without keywords.
  • An arresting officer turned on Sam’s smartphone and looked at the lock screen
  • The judge said that sometimes police can conduct a search without a fortification so this could have been constitutional in some circumstances
  • But seven months later, an FBI agent hit the suspect phone again and took a photo of the lock screen
  • The judge said this was unconstitutional because the FBI cannot search without justification
  • FBI evidence obtained from the mobile phone screen belonging to Joseph Sam ̵
    1; who was arrested for robbery and assault in May 2019 – has now been ejected

The legislation needs a keyword just to look at the lock screen of a suspect’s smartphone, according to a Seattle ruling.

Judge John Coughenour issued a shock decision in the Seattle District Court on Monday that the FBI violated a suspect’s constitutional rights when an agent turned on his phone and looked at the screen.

Coughenour said that looking at an individual’s lock screen is classified as a search, which means law enforcement can’t do this without keywords.

The decision means that evidence obtained by law enforcement from the cellphone screen belonging to Joseph Sam – who was arrested for robbery and assault in May 2019 – has now been thrown out.

Watching an individual's lock screen is classified as a search, meaning law enforcement can't do this without a decision, according to a Seattle ruling

Watching an individual’s lock screen is classified as a search, meaning law enforcement can’t do this without a decision, according to a Seattle ruling

But Washington state judges ruled that some evidence from the screen could be preserved, as police can sometimes conduct a search without a decision while the FBI cannot.

The judge’s decision was based on two separate incidents that began when Sam was arrested in May 2019.

One of the arresting police officers activated Sam’s Motorola smartphone and looked at the lock screen.

Then, seven months after the arrest in February, an FBI agent hit the suspect’s phone again and took a photo of the lock screen.

The name ‘Streezy’ was displayed across the screen.

Sam’s lawyer filed a motion to suppress evidence obtained by law enforcement from the lock screen, saying that a keyword is required to look at the screen.

Coughenour stated that both incidents are classified as searches but that the search at the time of the arrest and the search on the later date are two separate issues.

Judge John Coughenour (pictured) issued a shock decision in U.S. District Court in Seattle on Monday that the FBI violated suspected mistakes Joseph Sam's constitutional rights when an agent turned on his phone and looked at the screen

Judge John Coughenour (pictured) issued a shock decision in U.S. District Court in Seattle on Monday that the FBI violated suspected mistakes Joseph Sam’s constitutional rights when an agent turned on his phone and looked at the screen

The judge said the police can perform searches without keywords under certain circumstances at the time of the arrest, including whether the search was “either an incident of a lawful arrest or as part of police efforts to inventory the personal effects”.

This means that the police looking at the phone’s lock screen at the time of arrest cannot have been a violation of the suspect’s rights.

But the judge said he needed more evidence to determine if the search was conducted for one of these reasons.

But the search at the FBI later was unconstitutional and violated Sam’s Fourth Amendment right, the judge ruled, because the FBI cannot conduct a search without a justification.

“The FBI physically infringed on Sam’s personal impact when the FBI launched his phone to take a picture of the phone’s lock screen,” Coughenour said.

The FBI evidence from Sam’s cell phone has since been suppressed.

The government had claimed that a phone’s lock screen is public to someone when the phone has power so that privacy cannot be expected.

The judge dismissed this argument, saying: “When the government obtains evidence by physically infringing a constitutionally protected area – as the FBI did here – it is” unnecessary to consider “whether the government also violated the defendant’s reasonable expectation of integrity.”

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