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According to a federal judge, law enforcement officials have no right to compel a suspect to unlock their phones with facial or fingerprint recognition. The smartphones of today feature lockdown protocols which only the user’s face or fingerprint can lift. In combination with a previous rule imposed by the court in the past, the law doesn’t allow cops to force a suspect to disclose their phone’s password.

facial recognition
Facial recognition

The Specifics

The judge of the District Court ruled that requiring a suspect to unlock a mobile device using biometric analysis, like facial identification or iris scanning, is directly violating the Fifth Amendment protection act against self-incrimination. According to the words of the overseer of laws, no one can force an individual to provide the thumb, or any other finger, face, iris, or other biometric features to unlock a mobile phone.

The events of the case

The case that was under the jurisdiction of this particular judge involved two people. The allegation was that these two individuals were blackmailing a third party about exposing an embarrassing video on social media if the coerced person didn’t pay a ransom.

The reasons behind the denial

The police officers conducting the case wanted to search the location of the suspects. While doing so, the cops also sought to unlock all digital devices discovered at the premises that belonged to anyone within the scene. The judge denied allowance to this warrant. The judge had no issue letting the cops to rummage through the devices of the perpetrators. However, rooting through the phones of the others present there was a direct violation of privacy.

Biometric Data
Biometric Data

A notable elucidation

The judge overlooking the proceedings of the case pointed out how technology is outpacing laws and norms. Testimony for a trial should never remain within the limits of written or verbal communication, especially with the presence of technology. Then again, according to the Fifth Amendment, biometric data serves more than just opening digital locks. DNA swabs and fingerprints serve as concrete evidence. So, the collection of such proofs to unlock phones, amount to unconstitutional self-incrimination.

A tall hurdle

Naturally, the verdict of the judge in discussion here is facing challenges. Though, the judge’s conclusion has a leg to stand on, and meet the opposition steadfastly because the Supreme Court passed a similar judgment some time ago. As long as the law lags behind technology, courts need to take the necessary mental leap for bringing them up to date. If the judgment regarding unlocking of phones faces legal challenges, then there are chances of a constitutional amendment that will compel users to unlock their phones.

Tags : biometric dataconstitutional amendmentfacial identificationlaw enforcementlockdown protocolsSmartphone
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