Police Can Require Your Fingerprint, But Not Passcode, To Unlock iPhone

In a landmark decision, Judge Steve Frucci ruled that police could force a criminal defendant to unlock his iPhone with a fingerprint even though his passcode is still protected by the Fifth Amendment:

Judge Steven C. Frucci ruled this week that giving police a fingerprint is akin to providing a DNA or handwriting sample or an actual key, which the law permits. A pass code, though, requires the defendant to divulge knowledge, which the law protects against, according to Frucci’s written opinion.

This ruling strikes me as being pretty stupid. Isn’t the point of the Fifth Amendment to protect a defendant from being forced to incriminate himself? So whether he is being asked to divulge his passcode or unlock his phone with a fingerprint seems pretty immaterial.

The real problem here is not even the details of the actual case that Judge Frucci presided over. It was a murder case, and it seems that the defendant may have strangled his wife. Video of the altercation may have been on his phone, so Judge Frucci wanted to do whatever was necessary to get evidence against the defendant. He had probably already decided the defendant was guilty. But his ruling has implications for much less severe circumstances.

The police will be able to use this ruling to get anyone to unlock their phones for whatever reason, and you know they will use this ruling for that purpose. In this particular case, a warrant was likely issued for search. It’s likely that police will continue to ignore this necessity in the future. So, here’s what you can do if you find yourself being asked to unlock your phone with your finger:

  1. You could use the wrong finger to unlock your phone. Divulging which finger to use would be similar to divulging a passcode, and should be protected. Right? That’s probably splitting hairs. But that was already going on here, so I wouldn’t feel bad about it.
  2. You could turn off one-touch unlocking on your iPhone.

One way or the other, I’m tired of your right to privacy being continually eroded by courts. In the name of prosecuting real criminals, law-abiding citizens continue to lose every right they ever had.

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