How far will law enforcers go to unlock a smartphone? Given how critical these mobile devices have become these days, it seems they’re willing to go through sometimes morbid lengths to access what could be, but not yet confirmed, evidence inside. And, yes, that includes trying to unlock phones using the deceased’s own fingers. That is what two detectives in Largo, Florida attempted to do when the walked into a funeral home to unlock the phone that belonged to the deceased. But while the detectives didn’t do anything illegal, they are being called out for being unethical or, at the very least, insensitive.
Linus Phillip, 30, was shot and killed last March 23 at a gas station after trying to drive away from a police officer who was trying to search him. The investigation led to probably drug involvement, with clues possible stored in Phillip’s smartphone. Unfortunately for the police, the man’s body was already released from state custody by the time they got hold of his phone.
That’s when they decided to walk into the funeral home, were fiancée Victoria Armstrong was keeping watch. Neither her nor the family were informed by the police or even the funeral home about it, perhaps to avoid trying to hide or dispose of evidence. The detectives were unable to unlock the phone in question.
Legally speaking, the police did no wrong. They didn’t even need a search warrant as the expectation to privacy ends at the person’s death. That principle, however, was made at a time when smartphones didn’t even exist yet. People could have hardly imagined unlocking devices or property using their fingerprints, dead or alive.
More broadly speaking, however, laws just haven’t caught up yet with current technology and practices. As smartphones become more and more critical to investigations, lawmakers and courts are scrambling to interpret years or decades-old laws in a new light. But even if something is deemed legal, there is still a question of proprietary and respect, either to the deceased or those they left behind.
SOURCE: Tampa Bay Times