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Warrant served on US suspect forcing him to unlock phone with biometric lock

Warrant served on US suspect forcing him to unlock phone with biometric lock

For years, the Internet has argued if police in the United States can force a suspect to open their phone with their face. Expert (and otherwise) opinion and court rulings have only further muddied things.

The issue remains unsettled, but an article on Forbes.com reports on a federal warrant dated July 13 that successfully forced a suspect to unlock an encrypted messaging app on his iPhone.

Forbes points out that the FBI, which wielded this warrant, has made owners of iPhones to unlock the devices using Face ID. This is the first such tool used in the United States to access a biometrically encrypted messaging app.

Some civil rights advocates maintain that that suspect was forced to incriminate himself by opening Wickr just the same as if he had been persuaded to give police a password (which, to date, has been held generally to be illegal self-incrimination.)

In this specific case, the FBI served the warrant on a Tennessee man suspected of trafficking in child sexual abuse material, a federal crime.

It is not known if the federal government has used this kind of search warrant to prosecute other, less visceral, crimes.

It is a topic that has been percolating for years and is unlikely to be settled until it is heard before the U.S. Supreme Court.

A year ago, a South Carolina judge asked the state attorney general how likely it is that state higher courts would approve of forced biometric compliance. The answer? Go for it.

Two years ago, New York City police handcuffed a Queens resident who had photographed officers not wearing Covid masks. They tried to hold his phone in front of his face so that it unlocked.

And in 2019, a U.S. magistrate judge ruled biometric locks are protected by the Fifth Amendment protection people from self-incrimination.

Perhaps the only thing that can be said with certainty about the situation is that no one has made it illegal to disable biometric locks before handing a phone to law enforcement.

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