Legal issues

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Legal Issues

Lockpicking and safecracking are almost always legal hobbies when you own the lock or safe you are attempting to open. Most legal complications involve possession of tools.

In most jurisdictions, lockpicking and safecracking are only illegal under the following circumstances:

  • Possession with intent to commit a crime
  • Done without the permission of the lock/safe owner
  • Prima facie (see below)

Regardless of what this page says, always verify your local and federal laws prior to purchasing, making, or selling any lockpicking and safecracking tools.

Contents


Permission

Lockpicking is generally allowed when permission is granted to the lockpicker by the owner of the lock. In this sense, picking locks that you own is legal. This is similar to the digital laws that allow you to legally hack your own computer.

Possession of Tools

Most governments require that the intent to commit a crime be present before possession of lockpicking tools is illegal. For example, crowbars and hammers can be used as burglary tools, but until intent is shown or a crime is committed they cannot be considered burglary tools. The same goes for lockpicking tools.

One important consideration is whether your state, local, or national laws consider possession to be prima facie intent to commit a crime. This establishes that possession of tools is illegal because it is "self evident" that tools will be used for malicious intent. In these jurisdictions it is usually required that you be in one of the following categories to legally possess tools:

  • Government/Law Enforcement
  • Lock manufacturer/distributor
  • Locksmith (certification required, usually)
  • Automobile dealer
  • Repossessor

Sale of Tools

The legality of manufacturing, sale, and advertising of tools varies greatly between jurisdictions. In most cases sale is legal, but with various restrictions. Most laws require that sales or transfers of tools be recorded, sometimes with very strict documentation requirements. Jurisdictions that have prima facie laws in effect may require that sale be restricted to specific professions.

Transfer of Tools

In the United States, U.S.C 39.3002a states that locksmithing tools are nonmailable and should be disposed of by the Postal Service (USPS). Exceptions to the rule include:

  • A lock manufacturer or distributor
  • A "bona fide" locksmith
  • A "bona fide" repossesor
  • A motor vehicle manufacturer or dealer

Being "bona fide" is not clearly defined, and the hobbyist is a grey area. In reality, most packages are allowed to continue through the postal system.

Another relevant law in the United States is U.S.C. 18.1716A(b) which prohibits sending lockpicks through other private delivery services such as UPS or Fedex unless you meet one of the exempted categories in USC Ch.39 Sec.3002A. This effectively prohibits any inter-state delivery of lockpicks using either the USPS or private courier unless you are exempted. In practice, online retailers and hobbyist organizations regularly sell and ship picks and other accouterments without incident.

Other Concerns

The method of opening may constitute additional legal concerns. This is especially true if explosives, firearms, or hazardous materials (high temperatures, toxic gases, acids) are used. Remember to check all applicable local and federal laws for any additional circumstances. Furthermore, always consider any insurance contracts that may affect the use of manipulation or bypass on any locking component.

Legality in the US, by state

State Possession Sale/Transfer Locksmiths Reference(s)
Alabama Legal; must show intent Certification required 1, 2
Alaska Legal; must show intent 1
Arizona Legal; must show intent 1, 2
Arkansas Unknown, no specific laws
California Legal; must show intent Legal, but must record sales information. Various gotchas with motor vehicle tools, see 1. Certification required 1, 2
Colorado Legal; must show intent 1
Connecticut Legal; must show intent Certification required 1, 2
Delaware Legal; must show intent 1
Florida Legal; must show intent 1
Georgia Legal; must show intent 1
Hawaii Legal; must show intent 1, 2
Idaho Legal; must show intent 1
Illinois Legal; must show intent, bump keys require Certification Only to Certified Individuals Certification required 1, 2 3 4
Indiana Unknown, no specific laws
Iowa Legal; must show intent 1
Kansas Unknown, no specific laws 1, 2
Kentucky Legal; must show intent 1
Louisiana Legal; must show intent Certification required 1, 2
Maine Legal; must show intent 1, 2
Maryland Legal; must show intent 1
Massachusetts Legal; must show intent 1
Michigan Legal; must show intent 1, 2
Minnesota Legal; must show intent 1, 2
Mississippi Illegal; considered prima facie 1, 2
Missouri Legal; must show intent 1
Montana Legal; must show intent (stated as "purpose to commit an offense") 1
Nebraska Legal; must show intent Certification required 1, 2, 3
Nevada Illegal; considered prima facie Certification required 1, 2
New Hampshire Legal; must show intent 1
New Jersey Legal; must show intent (stated as "purpose so to use or employ") Certification required 1, 2
New Mexico Legal; must show intent 1
New York Legal; must show intent Certification required (NYC only) 1, 2
North Carolina Legal; must show intent Certification required 1, 2, 3, 4
North Dakota Unknown; no specific laws
Ohio Illegal; considered prima facie 1, 2
Oklahoma Legal; must show intent Certification required 1, 2
Oregon Legal; must show intent Certification required 1, 2
Pennsylvania Unknown; no specific laws
Rhode Island Legal; must show intent Legal; unless automotive tools, see 2 1, 2
South Carolina Legal; must show intent 1
South Dakota Legal; must show intent 1
Tennessee Legal; must show intent Certification required 1, 2
Texas Legal; must show intent Certification required 1, 2
Utah Legal; must show intent 1, 2
Vermont Legal; must show intent 1
Virginia Illegal; considered prima facie Certification required 1, 2, 3
Washington Legal; must show intent 1, 2
Washington D.C. Legal; must show intent 1
West Virginia Unknown, no specific laws
Wisconsin Legal; must show intent 1, 2
Wyoming Legal; must show intent 1, 2

Legality around the world, by country

Country Possession Sale/Transfer Locksmiths Reference(s)
Australia (Queensland) Legal; must show intent 1
Finland Legal; must show intent Legal; no restrictions 1, 2
France Legal; must show intent Unknown Certification required 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
Japan Illegal; must be certified Illegal; must be certified Certification required 1
The Netherlands Legal; no restrictions Legal; no restrictions 1 2
Poland Illegal; must be certified Illegal; must be certified Certification required 1
Sweden Legal Illegal; must be certified Certificated required 1

See also

Personal tools