Investigators seized the Microsoft Surface Pro laptop on a search warrant earlier this year, but say they were unable to access its hard drive. The judge in charge of the case ordered the respondent Guy Reffitt, who faces five federal charges including bringing a handgun to the riot and obstructing justice, of sitting in front of the laptop and unlocking it via facial recognition. Reffitt, a member of the far-right Texas Three Percenter militia, allegedly participated in the failed attempt disturb Congress Certification of Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election on on behalf of Donald Trump, and later threatened to execute his daughter and son as “traitors” if they delivered him to authorities.
According to CNN, Reffitt’s attorney confirmed he was tricked into unlocking the laptop immediately after the hearing ended and investigators now have access to its contents. FBI agents told the court they were looking for 6 gigabytes of footage from Reffitt’s helmet camera which they said likely transferred to the laptop. the Dallas Morning News reported Investigators said they determined that Reffitt deleted three video files from the camera, including two titled “DC,” and therefore the footage was not available through other methods.
Reffitt’s defense team had in turn argued that the original search warrant had expired, as well as that he forgot if the laptop had a password and wouldn’t remember it if There were. According to the Morning News, his lawyer, William Welch, had conceded that “an attempt at biometric unlocking may be appropriate”.
Courts have long made conflicting rulings on whether force-unlocking devices violates the Fifth Amendment’s right not to self-incriminate. According to Ars Technica, the federal courts of Indiana, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Colorado (and New Jersey), along with the state courts in Virginia and Massachusetts, have all ruled that suspects can be forced to unlock phones. However, federal courts in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, as well as a state court in Florida, have ruled otherwise. The legal aspects surrounding biometric security, which in this case simply required the suspect to be placed in front of the device rather than providing login credentials, are even more obscure. A federal court in California ruled in 2019 that investigators cannot force a suspect to unlock a device with facial recognition or fingerprint, finding it identical to a password.
Ultimately, as much of the relevant Fifth Amendment precedent was set in the pre-digital era, the constitutionality of compelled device decryptions will have to be settled in a future Supreme Court case.
“As the court here noted, requiring a defendant to expose his face to unlock a computer can be lawful, and is not far removed from other procedures that are now routinely approved by courts, with proper justification: standing in a lineup, submitting a handwriting or voice exemplar, or submitting a blood or DNA sample,” CNN senior legal analyst Elie Honig wrote. He added that judges considering such orders must weigh the tension “between respecting a defendant’s privacy and other rights on the one hand, and enabling prosecutors to obtain potentially crucial evidence with minimal intrusion on the defendant’s rights, on the other.”
Reffitt has remained defiant after his arrest and act of charge. A letter from prison obtained by ProPublica and identified as written by him expressed no remorse and argued that the January 6 riots were “nothing less than a satirical way of overthrowing a government.” If the reversal was the quest, he undoubtedly would have been reversed. Reffitt’s letter also claimed that there was no coordinated plan for January 6 and attributed the violence against “overly emotional isolated individuals”.
However, Reffitt’s letter also threatened that the insurgency was a “The people are clearly not happy” warning. Other evidence in the case included a recording of a Zoom meeting held between Reffitt and two other militia members four days after the siege, which prosecutors said portrayed him threatening further attacks on “mainstream media”, “Silicon Valley” and “Big Tech”. Prosecutors pointed to a specific plan discussed on the call, in which Reffitt suggested pulling and deactivating a generator at a social media company’s server facilities near his home in Wylie, Dallas, which is said to be disruptive. so called its operations.
If convicted, Reffitt could face a maximum sentence of several decades in prison.
Trump remains widely popular with Republicans after his disastrous presidency, and GOP members in Congress have continued to downplay the events of January 6 and interfere with their colleagues’ riot investigations. The Republican-controlled Senate acquitted Trump in his two impeachment trials, the record of which was for his incitement to insurgency. This week, Republicans in the House effectively refused to participate in a 13-member panel called by Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi to investigate the incidents.