N.J. judge protects alleged drug dealer's BlackBerry password

Josh Miller

Josh Miller
(CBS News) A New Jersey judge ruled Thursday that police cannot force a California truck driver to turn over his BlackBerry password.

California trailer-truck driver J. Arturo Vergara was allegedly found with 364 pounds of marijuana in Mount Olive, N.J., the Daily Record reports.

"Vergara, 34, of Ontario, Calif., was stopped on Route 80 in Mount Olive on Sept. 7, 2010, by a state trooper who wanted to conduct a safety inspection," the Record reports. After a thorough search of his rig, police found the marijuana inside 15 bundles of snack bars and canned food. Police wanted to search Vergara's BlackBerry to gather evidence, but could not obtain his password.

State Superior Court Judge Stuart Minkowitz ruled that a Vergara did not have to turn over his password because it would violate his Fifth Amendment rights - which protects defendants from self-incrimination.

Police can now search cell phones without a warrant

The question over cell phone privacy in the face of law enforcement has been an evolving and complicated issue.

In March, the U.S. Court of Appeal for the 7th Circuit ruled that it is now legal for police to search cell phones without a warrant. Smartphone users who have a password enabled are protected by the Fifth Amendment, as in Vergara's case. But, that doesn't mean anyone is in the clear.

A recent report by CNET pointed out that law enforcement has another way to gain access to smartphones: A court order that requires Apple and Google to assist police in bypassing cell phone passwords.

How Apple and Google help police bypass iPhone, Android lock screens

Apple has allegedly been helping police bypass iPhone passwords for approximately three years, according to a CNET law enforcement source in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Bypassing Android passwords is more complicated because the devices are synced with Google accounts, which are encrypted in a way that Google can't access passwords for particular e-mail accounts. A judge can order Google to reset account passwords, however.

"Because these are court orders, when Apple and Google receive them, they typically have no choice but to comply," said DeclanMccullagh, CNET chief political correspondent and senior writer.

Vergara is schedule to stand trial next week.

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