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Federal judge orders man to unlock iPhone via fingerprint recognition


A federal judge has secretly ordered a Dallas, Texas man who allegedly prostituted underage girls to unlock his iPhone using his fingerprint, according to now unsealed federal court documents cited in a report by Ars Technica.

The case marks one of the first instances where an individual’s phone has been ordered to be unlocked via fingerprint recognition, but these kinds of government demands are expected to occur more frequently with the increasing public adoption of fingerprint technology.

Legal experts have previously warned that these government demands do not violate the Fifth Amendment right against compelled self-incrimination. In addition, some courts do not consider that ordering a suspect to disclose their online or computer password is a constitutional violation.

However, the attorney for Martavious Banks Keys said that it is a constitutional violation to order his client to aid the authorities with their prosecution.

The case will go in front of a federal appeals court in September while Keys — who has yet to be charged with a crime — remains in prison.

The court documents show that the authorities were unable to unlock Keys’ iPhone for some reason, most likely because the device had not been used for at least 48 hours and would require both the user’s password and fingerprint to unlock it.

“It is further ordered that Martavious Banks Keys shall cooperate with the Agent selected by the government in providing his fingerprints to aid in unlocking his Apple iPhone Model 5S, currently in the custody of the government,” Magistrate Judge Irma Ramirez wrote in an order document issued on May 26, which has now been sealed.

Due to the secret nature of the litigation, it remains to be seen whether the authorities have used another method to access the device’s contents, or whether they have have tried to order the defendant to unlock the phone with his password.

The law is still unclear on whether a suspect must comply with government demands to use their fingerprints or disclose a password as there has only been a handful of legal rulings involving this issue.

Several legal experts have said that ordering individuals to reveal their passcode is a constitutional violation because it requires them to use their mental state against them. However, some legal scholars believe that ordering suspects to use their fingerprints to unlock a phone is a different matter.

“But if we move toward authentication systems based solely on physical tokens or biometrics—things we have or things we are, rather than things we remember—the government could demand that we produce them without implicating anything we know,” privacy attorney Marcia Hoffman wrote in 2013. “Which would make it less likely that a valid privilege against self-incrimination would apply.”

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