Want to keep the TNW Conference vibe going?? Tickets for TNW2022 are available now >>

The heart of tech

This article was published on January 15, 2019

US police can’t force you to unlock your phone with fingerprints or face recognition

US police can’t force you to unlock your phone with fingerprints or face recognition
Abhimanyu Ghoshal
Story by

Abhimanyu Ghoshal

Managing Editor

Abhimanyu is TNW's Managing Editor, and is all about personal devices, Asia's tech ecosystem, as well as the intersection of technology and Abhimanyu is TNW's Managing Editor, and is all about personal devices, Asia's tech ecosystem, as well as the intersection of technology and culture. Hit him up on Twitter, or write in: [email protected].

Last Friday, Judge Kandis Westmore ruled in a US federal court in California that police cannot compel suspects to unlock their phones using biometrics like face recognition, iris scans, or fingerprints, as that would be in violation of their Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination.

Westmore issued the order while reviewing a case involving extortion by two suspects who threatened to release embarrassing videos of their victims. She noted that “Testimony is not restricted to verbal or written communications,” and that “If a person cannot be compelled to provide a passcode because it is a testimonial communication, a person cannot be compelled to provide one’s finger, thumb, iris, face, or other biometric feature to unlock that same device.”

Westmore also stated that the investigators could consider other ways to obtain evidence without forcing suspects to incriminate themselves, such as asking Facebook to hand over Messenger chat logs that would reveal their attempt to blackmail the victims.

The ruling is significant because it runs counter to previous interpretations of the law in cases requiring access to data locked on personal devices. With that, biometric methods for unlocking phones are now being viewed similar to alphanumeric passcodes in the eyes of the law in the US.

That’s a win for those on the side of protecting people’s privacy. But it remains to be seen if this ruling is challenged in future cases, and what this spells for lawmakers looking to boost criminal investigators’ powers in the country.

Via Forbes

Also tagged with