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Federal Judge Says There's Nothing Wrong With Police Forcing You to Unlock Your Cellphone

"And by requests, I mean demands. As in, you do it or you’ll be held in contempt of court."

Photo credit: Shutterstock

When Apple introduced TouchID it likely had no idea it was wading into the forensics business.

"Your fingerprint is the perfect password. You always have it with you. And no one can ever guess what it is. Our breakthrough Touch ID technology uses a unique fingerprint identity sensor to make unlocking your phone easy and secure. And with new developments in iOS 8 and Touch ID, your fingerprint will grant you faster access to so much more," Apple said of the new feature.

Photo credit: Shutterstock Photo credit: Shutterstock

As it turns out, your fingerprint is only the "perfect password" until police decide they want your information.

A federal judge in Virginia has ruled that because TouchID "is akin to providing a DNA or handwriting sample," law enforcement officers can legally use your fingerprint without your consent in order to unlock your cellphone.

But what police cannot do is force people to give up their pass codes. Such passwords are considered "knowledge" and are protected under the Fifth Amendment which protects American citizens from being forced to involve themselves in such cases.

"We can’t invoke the privilege against self-incrimination to prevent the government from collecting biometrics like fingerprints, DNA samples, or voice exemplars. Why? Because the courts have decided that this evidence doesn’t reveal anything you know," digital rights attorney Marcia Hofmann said.

But the ruling didn't come as any surprise to Hofmann. On Thursday she tweeted:

 

While a federal judge has already issued the ruling in one case, Hanni Fakhoury, an attorney for the digital rights advocacy organization Electronic Frontier Foundation said the issue is likely to appear before more judges.

“You can expect to see more cases where authorities are thwarted by encryption, and the result is you’ll see more requests that suspects decrypt phones themselves. And by requests, I mean demands. As in, you do it or you’ll be held in contempt of court," he said.

The Virginia ruling came not long after Apple announced its new encryption policy, in which users' data is accessible only with a password making it impossible for even Apple to access users' private information.

Attorney General Eric Holder criticized Apple's new policy (along with a similar policy by Google), calling it "worrisome."

Attorney General Eric Holder speaks during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, Thursday, September 4, 2014 (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File) Attorney General Eric Holder speaks during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, Thursday, September 4, 2014 (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

“We would hope that technology companies would be willing to work with us to ensure that law enforcement retains the ability, with court-authorization, to lawfully obtain information in the course of an investigation," Holder said.

Holder added it is "fully possible" to allow law enforcement to do its job while protecting personal privacy.

(H/T: Daily Dot)

Follow Jon Street (@JonStreet) on Twitter

Front page image via Shutterstock

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