Can law enforcement demand the passcode to your phone?

Did you ever wonder how safe the passcode is on your new fancy smartphone? Can law enforcement officials demand the passcode to your phone?

A recent ruling involved the case of two former Capital One employees under investigation for a possible insider trading incident. The former employees refused to give up the codes for their smartphones to the officers of the SEC. Modern smartphones use powerful encryption technology preventing access to the phone's data without the passcode. Without the code, the officers were unable to see if there was any incriminating evidence against them. 

In an interesting twist, Capital One who was in possession of the cell phones, handed the devices over to the authorities, but would not provide any passcodes. Capital One actually made employees sign a provision when the phones were issued that stated they would not disclose the passcode to anyone under any conditions. Therefore, Capital One believed giving the SEC investigators the passcodes would be contradictory to their own company policies.

The SEC sought a court order to force the former employees or Capital One to turn over the code so they could determine if any incriminating evidence was indeed on them. 

The judge ruled that the rights of the former employees were protected under the 5th amendment right against self-incrimination. Additionally, the judge also ruled that it wasn't possible to know if the employees being investigated even remembered the passwords.

This type of ruling in Pennsylvania can now be used as precedent for legal cases throughout America and it will likely make it a lot tougher on law enforcement officials to get access to information on your cell phone.