• Welcome to Overclockers Forums! Join us to reply in threads, receive reduced ads, and to customize your site experience!

If a family memeber dies, can their Android phone be legally unlocked?

Overclockers is supported by our readers. When you click a link to make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn More.

c627627

c(n*199780) Senior Member
Joined
Feb 18, 2002
For an Android phone screen locked with a pattern, is there a legal procedure to unlock it without formatting it and losing information of sentimental value to a family in specific cases of a family member dying, is there a procedure through a death certificate or otherwise?
 
Last edited:

Alaric

New Member
Joined
Dec 4, 2011
Location
Satan's Colon, US
It's been a while, but I've plugged phones in to my computer and transferred files and opened them that way before, specifically because the owner couldn't remember how to get in (my daughter). I hope this is a generic question, otherwise I'm sorry for your loss if that's the case.
 

hokiealumnus

Water Cooled Moderator
Joined
Oct 14, 2007
I would have the executor/executrix/administrator of the estate take the phone to law enforcement and see if there is anything they can do to unlock it for you. Swipes/PINs/passwords are the hardest because they are local on the device, and probably not something that google can provide (like a password change or access to the deceased person's email).

I'd also try what Alaric mentioned and see if you can't plug it in and pull files that way, which might not be possible depending on their settings (i.e. if you have to change it from charging to file transfer mode, you'll probably need the swipe/PIN/password).

Also +1 to hoping it's a generic question, and if not sorry for your loss. :(
 
OP
c627627

c627627

c(n*199780) Senior Member
Joined
Feb 18, 2002
It's not a member of my family.
Apparently the family in question was told by the phone company that they would not do it, even with a death certificate.
I found a page that apparently shows a way to recover a deceased person's Gmail account. Through it, an Android phone screen lock may be unlocked sometimes: https://support.google.com/accounts/troubleshooter/6357590
 

Janus67

Benching Team Leader
Joined
May 29, 2005
I think this all comes back to being able to unlock anyone's phone/account that is deceased. Bringing back the time months ago where Apple refused to unlock the shooter/terrorist's phone for the authorities due to the slippery slope that would be created. I would say if you can't plugin the phone and pull the data off that way that for better or worse, it means that your sensitive data is locked to you and only you unless you otherwise give the password/etc to someone else.
 

ATMINSIDE

Sim Racing Aficionado Co-Owner
Joined
Jun 28, 2012
It's not a member of my family.
Apparently the family in question was told by the phone company that they would not do it, even with a death certificate.
I found a page that apparently shows a way to recover a deceased person's Gmail account. Through it, an Android phone screen lock may be unlocked sometimes: https://support.google.com/accounts/troubleshooter/6357590

You mean the same link that Hokie posted four hours before?

I would have the executor/executrix/administrator of the estate take the phone to law enforcement and see if there is anything they can do to unlock it for you. Swipes/PINs/passwords are the hardest because they are local on the device, and probably not something that google can provide (like a password change or access to the deceased person's email).

I'd also try what Alaric mentioned and see if you can't plug it in and pull files that way, which might not be possible depending on their settings (i.e. if you have to change it from charging to file transfer mode, you'll probably need the swipe/PIN/password).

Also +1 to hoping it's a generic question, and if not sorry for your loss. :(
 
OP
c627627

c627627

c(n*199780) Senior Member
Joined
Feb 18, 2002
Yes ATMINSIDE, the same one I (also privately) found just after starting this thread.
Thank you Hokie for posting.


I think this all comes back to being able to unlock anyone's phone/account that is deceased. Bringing back the time months ago where Apple refused to unlock the shooter/terrorist's phone for the authorities due to the slippery slope that would be created. I would say if you can't plugin the phone and pull the data off that way that for better or worse, it means that your sensitive data is locked to you and only you unless you otherwise give the password/etc to someone else.
Yes. And the government unlocked it. Well not the government but someone who frequents computer forums did it for them after they saw on the news that the government couldn't unlock it.


Not that it makes a difference but I've dabbled quite a bit in cell phone operating system modifications since Galaxy 1 came out and on every version of Galaxy since.
This is not a topic for someone who has never done that.

If the phone has not been updated and and if it is a somewhat older phone, it can actually be done.
With Gmail password it could conceivably be done even on newer phones.
Google does offer a legal path to find out on case by case bases if Gmail password would be granted.

But I suppose in the end you are correct, if this is an updated newer phone, then no level of experience I or anyone here may have could match those people who unlocked that phone for the government. And there's that.
 

JrClocker

AKA: JrMiyagi
Joined
Sep 25, 2015
The legal way to do it is to have the executor/executrix of the estate order that he phone be unlocked.


 

knoober

Member
Joined
Mar 18, 2015
I am unfamiliar with whether this would work, but I would try booting into a custom recovery and using adb to pull the files you want? In case you were wondering you can boot a custom recovery without installing it.

I am unfamiliar with the legal avenues for such a problem.
 
OP
c627627

c627627

c(n*199780) Senior Member
Joined
Feb 18, 2002
The legal way to do it is to have the executor/executrix of the estate order that he phone be unlocked.

Order whom, after the phone company refuses?
Are you familiar with precedents on this topic, have you or anyone you know experienced "ordering" this or did you read about people "ordering" this anywhere? Thank you for posting this idea.

I am unfamiliar with whether this would work, but I would try booting into a custom recovery and using adb to pull the files you want? In case you were wondering you can boot a custom recovery without installing it.

Here's my experience: I have a friend's Galaxy S5 with a broken screen. Not just broken as in cracked, but broken as in the entire screen does not come on, even though the phone does.
So I tried accessing the files from a phone like that and I could have if it weren't for the lock screen! There's no way to enter the lock code because the screen is shot!
But the point is, you can't access a modern phone that way as I found out the hard way doing an unrelated transfer attempt from a screen locked phone.
 

knoober

Member
Joined
Mar 18, 2015
Here's my experience: I have a friend's Galaxy S5 with a broken screen. Not just broken as in cracked, but broken as in the entire screen does not come on, even though the phone does.
So I tried accessing the files from a phone like that and I could have if it weren't for the lock screen! There's no way to enter the lock code because the screen is shot!
But the point is, you can't access a modern phone that way as I found out the hard way doing an unrelated transfer attempt from a screen locked phone.

you cant bypass the boot and enter the bootloader or recovery by holding the down volume as you press the power (or whatever the procedure is for the Galaxy)? if you can get to the recovery and know the menus well enough to press them blind then you are in business. ADB will also work once you have reached recovery. After which you can reach the bootloader with

Code:
adb reboot bootloader

I mean I believe you, it has just been my experience that you have to have CATASTROPHIC failure (and a broken screen qualifies I guess) to be unable to access a device. Whether
Code:
 adb shell
Code:
  adb pull <path/to/file>
will allow you to access files on a locked phone is another matter. Come to think of it, you might need a destination listed for <pull> to work also. Most of the time I would rather pull the sd card and manually manipulate files so I rarely need push/pull. Anyway good luck :)
 
OP
c627627

c627627

c(n*199780) Senior Member
Joined
Feb 18, 2002
you cant bypass the boot and enter the bootloader or recovery by holding the down volume as you press the power (or whatever the procedure is for the Galaxy)? if you can get to the recovery and know the menus well enough to press them blind then you are in business. ADB will also work once you have reached recovery. After which you can reach the bootloader with

Code:
adb reboot bootloader

Thank you for posting.
The procedure is Volume UP + Home + Power, which I can do blind absolutely.
I have TWRP recovery on my GS5 so I would need to either reflash to stock recovery or maybe look for a screen shot online - but slow it down for me - what am I shooting to enter into *after* blind booting into stock recovery and before connecting the phone and adb'ing anything.
 

knoober

Member
Joined
Mar 18, 2015
I dont think stock would give you any useful options. First after booting to recovery you would type "adb devices" to make certain adb recognizes your device. If it does, you will see output that you will recognize as your device and then a serial number. Blank output means adb cannot see your device, then try "fastboot devices" to see if fastboot recognizes it.

If adb has positive output, then your next step would be "adb shell" which will set up the debugging bridge and allow you terminal access. After that you should be able to use "adb push/pull" amongst other terminal commands. As i said before, I use more manual (easier) ways usually so Im not an expert or anything. Another option is to try to initiate the shell after boot but before the lock screen loads (in that millisecond or so), because adb is available as soon as the OS has completed boot. I wouldnt hang my hat on getting the timing right without a sceen to look at though. And there is always the possibility of security lockout also, so be careful.

If instead you get output from "fastboot devices" then i am not certain you would be able to open a shell at all, so that would likely be the end of the road.
 
OP
c627627

c627627

c(n*199780) Senior Member
Joined
Feb 18, 2002
Thanks man.
Other people's devices are not rooted.
So step one would be blind rooting a device with a non-functioning screen? Then blind installing TWRP?
 

JrClocker

AKA: JrMiyagi
Joined
Sep 25, 2015
Order whom, after the phone company refuses?
Are you familiar with precedents on this topic, have you or anyone you know experienced "ordering" this or did you read about people "ordering" this anywhere? Thank you for posting this idea.

I cannot quote law or precedent on this, however, I am in the process of closing out my mother's estate.

If there is a will, then the will names an executor/executrix. This means that a lawyer was involved. A lawyer can create an order, for the estate, to make specific things happen. Orders are created to close bank accounts, order the sale of real estate, etc.

If a lawyer is not involved, then this means probate. And a probate court can order the same sorts of things.

Good luck my friend.
 

knoober

Member
Joined
Mar 18, 2015
Thanks man.
Other people's devices are not rooted.
So step one would be blind rooting a device with a non-functioning screen? Then blind installing TWRP?

Sounds like alot of work when you say it like that! :)
Probably blind unlocking the bootloader unless it is unlocked out of the box. After that you would need to boot to the bootloader (refer to device documentation) and you can then flash TWRP if you like. I would just boot into it for testing purposes with "fastboot boot image.img" which will not overwrite the recovery partition. The o ly advantage there is if the device would ever be sent back to the manufacturer (although unlocking the bootloader is usually enough to make them void your warranty)
 
OP
c627627

c627627

c(n*199780) Senior Member
Joined
Feb 18, 2002
If a lawyer is not involved, then this means probate. And a probate court can order the same sorts of things.

Probate court. Thank you very much for that solid suggestion.


Sounds like alot of work when you say it like that! :)
Probably blind unlocking the bootloader unless it is unlocked out of the box. After that you would need to boot to the bootloader (refer to device documentation) and you can then flash TWRP if you like. I would just boot into it for testing purposes with "fastboot boot image.img" which will not overwrite the recovery partition. The o ly advantage there is if the device would ever be sent back to the manufacturer (although unlocking the bootloader is usually enough to make them void your warranty)

Okay so for the example of a Galaxy S5 in my possession which is 100% stock unrooted with a broken black screen but the phone comes on, what exactly is step one there?
 

knoober

Member
Joined
Mar 18, 2015
Okay so for the example of a Galaxy S5 in my possession which is 100% stock unrooted with a broken black screen but the phone comes on, what exactly is step one there?

Step 1) Power on the device and give time to boot

Step 2) connect device to PC

Step 3) open CMD and navigate to folder where you have ADB and Fastboot (you've got the SDK right?) and type
Code:
 adb devices

I dont expect any output here because adb usually lists no output with the screen locked, but it is still worth a shot. However if there is output, it means that you can use
[adb shell] [/code]
from your CMD window. This will allow you to interface with the device inside the android device. Here is the link I usually refer to when I need to refresh myself on these commands.

if you (and you probably cant) get into the device with adb while it is locked then I suggest using the Vol Up/Pwr Button combo to enter the recovery and see if you can get any output from "adb devices" there. If you can, then refer back to the earlier link I posted for the proper commands to dump the device.

If "adb devices" shows no output try
Code:
  fastboot devices
if you get output from the fastboot command then it should be possible to boot TWRP. If not then Im stumped :)
 
OP
c627627

c627627

c(n*199780) Senior Member
Joined
Feb 18, 2002
Once again, thank you.
Here are my findings.

Our phones have USB Debugging enabled, they are rooted, they have TWRP installed or ClockworkMod, numerous options are there through imaging the phone etc. We can actually do things with our phones, should we ever need to.

But phones belonging to other people are fully at stock and there is *nothing* we can do to gain access because not even USB Debugging is enabled on stock. :(