Talking tech since 2003

Here’s the scenario: the police bust down a suspected criminal’s door, take the individual into custody and confiscate that person’s iPhone. The police believe there is evidence on the iPhone; however, the phone is protected by Touch ID, meaning a fingerprint is necessary in order to unlock the device.

Is that person protected by the 5th Amendment? According to a Virginia District Court, the answer is no — at least, not where fingerprints are concerned. The Virginian-Pilot reported that the court feels “giving police a fingerprint is akin to providing a DNA or handwriting sample or an actual key, which the law permits.”

touch-idSo it seems that the accused — who is, in this case, an EMS captain named David Baust — can indeed be compelled to unlock his iPhone using his fingerprint.

What’s really interesting, though, is that if Baust had turned off Touch ID and locked his phone with a simple four-digit pass code, police could not compel him to provide the code.

It all comes down to information. The 5th Amendment protects an accused individual from being forced to incriminate themselves. But it appears that, in the court’s interpretation, that applies only to information the person must divulge. A fingerprint isn’t information in this case; Baust doesn’t have to tell the police anything. All he has to do is put his finger on the sensor. But to provide police with a pass code, Baust would have to divulge information, and in that case, he would be protected by the 5th Amendment.

Long story short, Touch ID may seem like a pretty secure locking solution for your phone, but it doesn’t provide you much protection if authorities want to peek inside your phone — at least in Virginia.

We’ll keep an eye on this story and let you know if the ruling is upheld or overturned, should it be appealed.

[Source: 9 to 5 Mac]

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