Attorney Ian Friedman Talks to The Plain Dealer on Legality of Courts Demanding Computer Passwords

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The founder of Ian N. Friedman, Attorney at Law recently shared his legal insight in the media on the topic of computer passwords and whether the court has the authority to order the surrender of this information.

Ian N. Friedman, Attorney at Law

Cleveland Criminal Defense Attorney Ian N. Friedman was recently interviewed by The Plain Dealer on the issue of whether it is legal for the U.S. government to force individuals to give up the passwords to their computers for the sake of investigations. Attorney Friedman’s commentary as a lawyer and a law professor were included in the March 7, 2014 Plain Dealer article* titled “Bedford judge case highlights tricky legal issue: Can the government make people hand over their computer passwords?” In the article, Attorney Friedman was asked to comment on a specific case that is being handled in a Cuyahoga County, Ohio court. In this case, state prosecutors have asked the court to order the defendant—a Bedford, Ohio judge facing prostitution and corruption charges—to provide investigators with computer file encryption information, according to a motion to compel filed in the case of State of Ohio v. Jacob (Case No. CR 581077A, Court of Common Pleas, Cuyahoga County, Criminal Division).

The motion to compel lays out some of the details of the case. According to court documents, prosecutors state that the judge voluntarily handed his computer, tablet and cell phone over to investigators and consented to a search of these items. It is said that the investigators searched the judge’s web browser history and found a high volume of browser images showing searches for prostitution-related activity through a local brothel’s website. The Internet history also showed other searches that suggested that the judge knew of his investigation and was searching for possible defenses against prostitution charges. The problem that investigators faced was that a portion of judge’s computer was encrypted, and they needed the password. The judge’s counsel stated that his client refuses to provide this information.

In the article by The Plain Dealer, Attorney Friedman—a Cleveland-Marshall College of Law professor who teaches on computer and criminal law—explained that the legality of these types of requests is gray area. He noted that the courts have historically provided conflicting opinions on whether or not ordering a defendant to give up his or her computer password or encryption information is a violation of the individual’s Fifth Amendment right, which protects individuals from being forced to incriminate themselves. Some believe that handing over the information could potentially be seen as an admission that one knew about the information on the computer and even had control over it, the lawyer said.

The article explained that the few courts that have allowed such orders only did so when prosecutors were able to give very specific information of the files they were looking for and where they could be found. Attorney Friedman stated in the article that the lack of consensus on this issue stems from a larger problem—the courts decide these matters based on legal precedents that may be considered outdated, since they were established before technology became as advanced as it is today.

Attorney Friedman serves as a helpful resource to the media when it comes to the discussion of legal topics. He has extensive experience practicing criminal defense, and he has been repeatedly recognized as a leading attorney. The attorney has been selected for the list of the Ohio Super Lawyers® Top 50 Cleveland Lawyers and the Ohio Super Lawyers® Top 100 Ohio Lawyers, he has been accepted into The National Trial Lawyers: Top 100, he has been named as one of Northeast Ohio’s Leading Lawyers by Inside Business Magazine, and the list goes on. Furthermore, the attorney also formerly served as President of the Ohio Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Ian N. Friedman, Attorney at Law has a legal team that is made up of highly dedicated and skilled criminal defense lawyers. The law firm offers defense in numerous areas, from simple traffic violations to serious violent crime charges such as murder. More information about the firm is available at


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Ian Friedman
since: 11/2011
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