Privacy, Ethics, and Law Enforcement Access to Smart Phones

Case: State of Oregon v. Pittman

Legal Question:

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Can an individual be compelled under the law to unlock a smart phone (cell phone)?


Is existing law sufficient to protect an individual’s rights when law enforcement agencies seek access to data stored on smart phones, tablet computers, and other mobile devices?

Research Questions:

1. Is there or should there be a right to privacy that would protect an individual from being compelled to allow law enforcement access to data stored on a smart phone or similar device (e.g. tablet computers).

2. What are the legal and ethical implications of requiring device designers and/or vendor to provide bypass mechanisms to allow law enforcement agencies to access data stored on smart devices?


1. Research the case listed above (State of Oregon v. Pittman) and similar cases in the United States at both the state and federal levels.

2. Research the right to privacy and whether or not it extends to protecting data stored on smart phones and similar devices.

3. Research instances where law enforcement agencies have sought the assistance, willing or not, of smart phone designers and vendors, to obtain access to data stored on the devices

4. Using your research, address the legal question and issue listed in this assignment.

5. Using your research, analyze the importance of the research questions. (Why do these questions need to be answered? What is the potential impact of having or not having answers?)

6. Using your research, analyze and respond to the two research questions.

7. Develop three or more best-practice based recommendations for Smart Phone designers which can address the need to (a) ethically protect smartphone users’ privacy and security and (b) comply with federal and state laws regarding law enforcement access to evidence in criminal cases.


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