A second federal judge has ruled that a suspect can be compelled to unlock their iPhone using their fingerprint in order to give investigators access to data which can be used as evidence against them. The first time this ever happened in a federal case was back in May, following a District Court ruling in 2014.
The latest case involves a suspect accused of particularly unpleasant crimes, reports Ars Technica.
A Dallas, Texas man accused of prostituting underage girls was secretly ordered by a federal judge to unlock his iPhone using his fingerprint, according to federal court documents that are now unsealed.
The legal position of forcing suspects to use their fingerprints to unlock devices won’t be known with certainty until a case reaches the U.S. Supreme Court, but lower court rulings so far appear to establish a precedent which is at odds with that concerning passcodes …
Most constitutional experts appear to believe that the Fifth Amendment prevents a suspect from being compelled to reveal a password or passcode, as this would amount to forced self-incrimination – though even this isn’t certain. Fingerprints, in contrast, have traditionally been viewed as ‘real or physical evidence,’ meaning that police are entitled to take them without permission.
Some legal scholars disagree, however, arguing that the law never envisaged using fingerprints to provide access to data.
In the Texas case, the ruling turned out to be academic: it appears that more than 48 hours had elapsed since the iPhone was last unlocked, so iOS required the passcode to unlock it. Additionally, Apple strengthened the passcode requirement back in May, such that iOS now requires a passcode every six days if it hasn’t been unlocked by Touch ID within the past eight hours.
iOS also only permits five Touch ID unlock attempts before the passcode is required, so smart criminals would either register their little finger and use up those attempts with other fingers, or simply avoid using Touch ID at all – but fortunately most criminals aren’t smart.
Image: Digital Trends
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