While Touch ID makes sense for most of us as a secure and convenient way to protect our phones, there is one group of people who may want to stick to good old-fashioned passcodes: criminals.
A Virginia District Court has ruled that while phone passcodes are protected by the 5th Amendment, which says that those accused of crimes cannot be compelled to incriminate themselves, there is no such protection against using a suspect’s fingerprint to unlock a phone …
The ruling was reported by The Virginian-Pilot in the case of David Baust, an EMS captain accused of trying to strangle his girlfriend.
Prosecutors had said video equipment in Baust’s bedroom may have recorded the couple’s fight and, if so, the video could be on his cellphone. They wanted a judge to force Baust to unlock his phone, but Baust’s attorney, James Broccoletti, argued pass codes are protected by the Fifth Amendment, which prohibits forced self-incrimination.
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.
As a ruling in a District Court, there is plenty of scope for either aspect of the ruling–that passcodes are protected and that fingerprints aren’t–to be over-turned on appeal, but it’s an interesting argument.
Sophisticated lab techniques make it possible to fool Touch ID using only a high-resolution photo of a fingerprint. The approach was first demonstrated on an iPhone 5s and later shown to work also with the more sophisticated sensor on the iPhone 6.