A judge in the Northern District of California says that police cannot compel people to unlock their smartphones with their face or finger because it is a violation of the Fifth Amendment that upholds the right against self-incrimination.
The court ruling sheds light on the long-debated means of law enforcement personnel to forcefully have suspects unlock their gadgets in search procedures. Other federal judges previously ruled that police can coerce the process despite the rule that they can't press people for their passcodes and passwords.
Fingerprint, Face, Iris Unlock
Judge Kandis Westmore denied a search warrant for an Oakland property stemming from a Facebook extortion case. The suspects asked the victim to pay up or an "embarrassing" video will make the rounds on the internet, so cops wanted to raid the place where the two alleged culprits were in and have the go-signal to check the gadgets belonging to everyone in the scene even if that meant unlocking it with the face, fingerprint, or iris.
"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 explained.
Cops' Search Warrant On Suspects' Devices Denied
Furthermore, the judge sees the warrant as "overbroad" because it sought permission to forcefully check all devices at the premises and that because there were only two suspects. Although Westmore found that the police had probable cause to search, the magistrate denied the warrant and said it can be resubmitted if the police will only target the suspects and their gadgets.
Westmore explained that the face, fingerprint, and iris that are used in unlocking smartphones and other gadgets fall under "testimonial communication," which contradicts other rulings that said only passwords and passcodes belong to this category. The judge contested that it is not limited to "verbal or written communications."