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Full reference: Frison-Roche, M.-A., Being obliged by Law to unlock telephone is not equivalent to self-incrimination: Cour de cassation, Criminal Chamber, Dec. 19, 2019, Newsletter MAFR - Law, Compliance, Regulation, 21st of August 2020
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Summary of the news
The Cour de Cassation (French Supreme Judicial Court) made a decision on 19th of December 2019 about a case concerning a refusal to communicate his mobile phone's unlock code to the police while the police found him with a significant quantity of narcotic and a lot of cash and that there was a certain probability that this mobile phone get proofs of culpability of its owner. The individual was indicted not for narcotic trafficking but for not having communicate its unlock code which constitute an offense to article 434-15-2 of code pénal, from the loi du 3 juin 2018 renforçant la lutte contre la criminalité organisée, et le terrorisme et leur financement (law reinforcing organized crime, terrorisme and their financing).
The accused invokes before the court its right to not incriminate oneself. Indeed, the configuration face to policemen was such that if he refused to communicate its unlock code, he will be punished because of this obligation to communicate his code and that if he accepted, he will also be sanctioned because of the proofs contained into the mobile phone. Such a configuration therefore offered him no alternative to confessing, which is contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights and to European and national jurisprudence.
Face to such a case, the Cour de Cassation chose to segment the information and proposed the following solution: if the researched information cannot be obtained regardless of the suspect willingness, it is not possible to constraint this person to communicate this information without violating its procedural rights, but if the information can be obtained regardless of the suspect willingness then the individual is obliged to communicate his code. In the current case, as it was possible for policemen to obtain information contained in the phone by technical means, longer but existent, then the refuse of communication of the unlock code by the suspect constitute an obstruction that should be sanctioned.
Such a decision is an exemple of the conciliation by the judge of two fundamental but contradictory "monumental goals" of Compliance Law: transparency of information towards public authorities and very sensible personal data protection.
To go further, read Marie-Anne Frison-Roche's working paper: Rethinking the world from the notion of data