Indiana Supreme Court to hear cellphone privacy case
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (AP) — The Indiana Supreme Court is hearing the case of a woman who refused to unlock her cellphone for police in a stalking investigation.
Attorneys in the case say the court's decision could undermine privacy interests and constitutional rights, or public safety and law enforcement.
The Supreme Court will hear arguments next month in a case involving 37-year-old Katelin Seo of Carmel, who was accused of stalking and harassment in 2017, the Indianapolis Star reported .
Seo bonded out of Hamilton County Jail in July 2017, after being charged with stalking a man she dated, according to court records. She called the man the day she was released, despite an order to never contact him again, court records said.
Later that month, the mother of children who attended the school where Seo worked told police they had received menacing texts from Seo, the documents said.
Police obtained search warrants for Seo's phone, but she refused to give them the passcode. Her attorney, William Webster, invoked the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, arguing that forcing her to provide the password was essentially forcing her to testify against herself.
The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled in Seo's favor last August. Stephen Creason, a chief counsel at the state attorney general's office, questioned this ruling.
"This is no different than if police get a search warrant (to your home) and you lock the doors and refuse to unlock them," Creason said. "The law has never been nor does it make sense that police couldn't go into your house."
In a court filing, the Indiana attorney general said the Fifth Amendment includes a "foregone conclusion" doctrine that says the state can compel someone to do something if it already has knowledge of the information and can prove the facts through other means. The phone belongs to Seo and she used it to speak to the male victim, the state said.
Webster argued that investigators were not specific enough about what they expected to find on the device. Stephen Creason, chief counsel of the state appeals division, disputed that notion.
"We've been specific enough that a judge executed a search warrant," Creason said.
Von Welch, director of Indiana University's Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research, said the case has massive implications for law enforcement and what they are able to do to bring criminals to justice.
"We're wrestling right now with how much security (we want) around our computers — do we want to make that as strong as possible — and realizing when we make security that protects citizens from criminals, that also makes it harder for law enforcement," Welch said.
Seo has since accepted plea deals in the stalking cases. Webster said that illustrates the phone isn't needed.
"The state had enough additional evidence that they went ahead and proceeded with their case," he said. "My client still hasn't provided her password, and all of her criminal cases have been resolved."
Records show Seo is serving prison time in an unrelated case.