Warrant forces person to yield biometrics

April 1, 2016 - 

Police in Los Angeles recently acquired a warrant from the Court for the Central District of California to apply a user’s fingerprints to open an Apple device. That executed warrant, uncovered in a recent Forbes article and executed in February, is the first known case in which a warrant has compelled a person to unlock their smartphone with their biometric information.

The warrant allowed an LAPD agent to visit the premises of a person residing in Glendale, California and take the latter’s fingerprints to open up their iPhone.

Forbes could not determine what happened once the warrant was signed off. The publication speculates that the police either could have taken fingerprints directly from the person named in the warrant or obtain fingerprints by lifting them from another object.

It is unclear what interest the person was to the LAPD. The police have not offered an official statement about the case, and Apple has declined to comment. Forbes also notes that the U.S. Department of Justice did not provide a statement, while the Court for the Central District of California could not be reached at the time of publication.

According to the Forbes report, this is first time such a warrant has been used since a U.S. judge declared it legal to use criminal suspects’ fingerprints to open up smartphones in 2014.

This warrant revelation comes shortly after the U.S. Department of Justice revealed that it had discovered how to unlock an iPhone without assistance from Apple, allowing the agency to withdraw its legal case that sought to compel the high-tech firm to assist in a terrorist mass shooting investigation. As BiometricUpdate.com previously reported, the case was highly contentious because the government was requesting that Apple open up its operating system for access.

Apple had said that would create a dangerous precedent that would threaten data security for millions by essentially creating a “master backdoor” that could later be duplicated and used against other phones. Apple CEO Tim Cook said creating such software to break into a locked iPhone would be “bad news” and that Apple “would never write it”. In an interview, he said any such software would be the “equivalent of cancer”.

The case had become increasingly contentious as Apple refused to help the authorities, creating a debate about the conflict between privacy and security interests. Law enforcement’s new found ability to now unlock an iPhone through an alternative method now however raises new questions, especially concerning the strength of security of Apple devices.

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About Rawlson King

Rawlson O’Neil King is a contributing editor at BiometricUpdate.com and is an experienced communications professional, management consultant, trade journalist and author who recently published a book about control and electronic networks and who has written numerous articles in trade publications and academic journals about smart home and building technologies. Follow him @rawlsonking2.