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Still no certainty about legality of forced biometric phone unlocks in US

Still no certainty about legality of forced biometric phone unlocks in US

Speaking to a reporter in the U.S., a law professor recently said he doesn’t use biometric locks on his phone because it’s possible that police could force a scan when investigating a crime.

Passcodes remain relatively safe from compelled police access under the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment preserving a person’s right not to incriminate themselves. Judges and legislators have yet to find similar consensus on biometrics, however.

The professor, Matthew Tokson at the University of Utah, who raised the sanctity of biometric locks, was commenting on a state supreme court decision in December that prevents police from compelling someone to give up their device’s passcode.

Tokson reportedly told The Salt Lake Tribune: “Whatever is in your cell phone, if it’s sufficiently protected by your passcode, is likely to be safe from inspection.” The same can’t be said with certainty about biometrics, he said.

An analysis of the topic by the libertarian thinktank the Independent Institute sketches an unsettled legal landscape.

Not unexpectedly given its philosophical point of view, the organization feels government overreach is a valid concern.

A U.S. district Court in California four years ago found that forcing a scan on a suspect violates their Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination.

That same year, according to the institute, a U.S. district court in Idaho affirmed the right to withhold a passcode but said that biometrics are not protected. In other words, scans can be compelled because physical characteristics are not testimony.

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