A court just ordered Paytsar Bkhchadzhyan, a California woman whose boyfriend is reportedly involved in a series of shady businesses as a member of the Armenian Power gang, to use her fingerprint to unlock her seized iPhone.
Authorities argued that the procedure was not counter to the Fifth Amendment because self-incrimination only refers to passwords not biometrics. According to the U.S. constitution, criminal suspects cannot be forced to testify against themselves.
Case law clearly shows that providing authorities with a password that can be used to unlock your smartphone is self incriminatory. But jurisprudence states that providing something biometric including blood samples in DUI cases or fingerprints is not testimonial.
Ms. Bkhchadzhyan was asked to provide her fingerprint on Feb. 25. After 20 days, the warrant was executed. Sources said that the reason authorities needed access to the woman’s phone so badly remained unclear. People familiar with the matter said that investigators may want incriminatory evidence against the woman’s boyfriend.
Some iPhones can be unlocked with a fingerprint if the phone hasn’t been used in the last 48 hours. After that time period or if the device was shut down in the meantime a password is required.
Charges against the woman and her boyfriend remain sealed.
Rarely, a U.S. court orders somebody to unlock his or her phone with a fingerprint. Two years ago, the Virginia Circuit Court ruled that the police cannot ask a password from a suspect but they can force the suspect to provide a fingerprint to unlock an electronic device.
Ever since Apple launched Touch ID for its smartphones, cyber security experts and law professors cautioned against the dangers of such security measures. Experts said that the new authentication technology could weaken Fifth Amendment protections of phone owners.
Riana Pfefferkorn of the Stanford Center for Internet and Society and a cryptography expert, noted that criminal defendants don’t stand a chance in challenging such judicial orders.
Pfefferkorn added that the warrant is perfectly legal under the Fifth Amendment. So, iPhone users should be wary that trading security for convenience could have some unexpected legal consequences.
“To be sure, it’s troubling to think that the police could end up using against you a choice you made for the sake of convenience,”
Experts recommend using fingerprints along with passwords to avoid such troubles.
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