A California judge has ruled that police can no longer force individuals to unlock their mobile phone, be it via passcodes or biometrics.
Previously, it was believed that biometrics -be it iris, face or fingerprint recognition- was an alternative to the ban placed on police attempting to force suspects to give up passcodes. However, the ruling now protects all forms of login, from the most basic to the most advanced.
According to Forbes, the order came from the US District Court for the Northern District of California in the denial of a search warrant. The case involved Facebook extortion case, involving a victim having to pay up, lest an embarrassing video be released.
While the police had probable cause to search the property where the phone was located, Magistrate Judge Kandis Westmore explained, they did not have the right to open electronic devices through biometrics.
“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,” the judge wrote.
Andrew Crocker, senior staff attorney at the digital rights nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation, praised the ruling, noting that Westmore’s inclusion of biometrics.
“While that’s a fairly novel conclusion, it’s important that courts are beginning to look at these issues on their own terms,” Crocker said. “In its recent decisions, the Supreme Court has made clear that digital searches raise serious privacy concerns that did not exist in the age of physical searches—a full forensic search of a cellphone reveals far more than a patdown of a suspect’s pockets during an arrest for example.”
The decision could be overturned by a district court judge, though it is unknown if appeals have been made at this time.
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