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Utah to consider bill blocking police from forcing biometrics to unlock phone


A bill is being prepared for Utah’s state legislature to prevent police from compelling suspects to unlock their smartphones with fingerprint or facial biometrics, which Salt Lake City Fox affiliate Fox 13 says would be the first of its kind in the U.S.

The bill’s sponsor, Representative Adam Robertson (R-Provo) told the outlet that the bill is an attempt to uphold Constitutional protection against illegal search and seizure.

“If you open a phone, a law enforcement officer cannot control the first thing they see. They may have a right to access a specific piece — say, the email or voicemail — but what if I have it open to a website that’s self-incriminating, unrelated to the case they were interested in?” he said. “Then we have an issue of unlawful search and seizure here that I’m very concerned about.”

Law enforcement groups are concerned about proposal, according to the report, and the Executive Director of the Utah Chiefs of Police Association, Val Shupe, says he wants to meet with Robertson to discuss the bill. Robertson says he does not want to hinder police’s ability to do their job, but wants to strike a balance with privacy.

Current Utah laws do not require police to obtain a search warrant to access a suspect’s electronic device. No court in the state has ruled on the issue of compelling biometrics to unlock a device.
The bill is supported by libertarian group Libertas Institute.

“Most people think biometric passwords in the form of facial scan or fingerprint are far more safer than numerical passwords. That may be true when it comes to intruders trying to break into your phone. It’s not true when it comes to legal standards,” says Libertas Institute Policy Analyst Molly Davis.

The Fourth and Fifth Constitutional Amendments have been invoked in judicial decisions about the legality of compelling biometrics to unlock smartphones, and passwords are generally considered potentially self-incriminating testimony, and therefore protected.

The bill is expected to be introduced in 2020.

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