Never Forget

Never forget… your password. Doing so could earn you some jail time:

US courts are still torn about how to handle defendants who refuse to give up passcodes for encrypted smartphones, judging by two recent court cases reported in the Miami Herald. In one, child abuse defendant Christopher Wheeler got six months in jail for failing to provide a correct code, despite pleas to the judge that he couldn’t remember it. In a different court, a judge let off Wesley Victor (accused of extortion), even though he also claimed to have forgotten his iPhone code.

The main difference in the cases is that ten months had passed after Victor’s initial arrest, and as his lawyer argued, “many people, including myself, can’t remember passwords from a year ago.” In the same case Victor’s girlfriend (and reality TV star) Hencha Voigt was ordered to divulge her code to police, but provided one that didn’t work. She’s also facing contempt of court charges, and is scheduled to appear next week. Both defendants are accused of threatening to release sex tapes stolen from social media celeb YesJulz unless she paid $18,000.

Holding somebody in contempt of court for claiming to forget their password is a fascinating concept to me. There is no way to prove whether or not somebody actually forgot something or lied about forgetting something. Under the concept of innocent until proven guilty a judge should have to refrain from punishing somebody for claiming to forget their password since it’s impossible to prove if they’re lying. But this country doesn’t operate under the principle of innocent until proven guilty, it operates under the principle of granting people in muumuus the power to arbitrarily decide whether somebody is telling the truth of lying.

Even the man who gave the police officer an incorrect password has a plausible excuse. He was in a stressful situation where an armed man was ordering him to do something against his will. It’s not unusual for people to forget or misremember basic information during stressful situations so it’s not implausible that the man simply misremembered his password at the time. But now he’s going to prison even though his guilt cannot be proven.