If a defendant in a criminal case refuses to disclose the password to his encrypted computer, does either the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution or Article 1, Section 9 of the Pennsylvania Constitution protect him so that he does not have to reveal it? 

Courts have grappled with whether the fundamental right against self-incrimination allows defendants to remain silent if law enforcement is asking them to reveal their passwords to encrypted devices. After the trial court in Joseph Davis's case ordered him to provide the password to his computer as part of a criminal investigation in which he had been charged, he appealed to the Superior Court, which affirmed the decision. 

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ultimately reversed, ruling that under the 5th Amendment, Mr. Davis could not be compelled to give his password to law enforcement. The Court did not reach the question of whether the Pennsylvania Constitution provides greater protections for accused individuals under these circumstances. 


Peter Goldberger; Brett Kaufman and Jennifer Granick (ACLU); Robert Welsh and Catherine Recker (Welsh & Recker PC); Andrew Christy and Vic Walczak (ACLU of Pennsylvania); Steven Greenwald (Luzerne County Public Defender)

Date filed

November 30, 2017


Supreme Court of Pennsylvania