Are you excited about the new iPhone’s nifty biometric fingerprint unlock system? The police might be, too.
Courts have given mixed messages about whether Americans are protected from being forced to divulge passwords or decrypt information for law enforcement officials. Civil liberties advocates argue defendants shouldn’t have to unlock their own computers for the cops. The logic: Under the Fifth Amendment, Police can’t force you to self-incriminate by testifying, or divulging something in your mind.
It’s unclear if that same protection applies if the password is your fingerprint. “A fingerprint is entitled to less constitutional protection than a password known in your mind,” said Hanni Fakhoury, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco. “If police arrest you and ask you for a password, you could refuse and they’d be hard pressed to force you to divulge the password.”
Of course, police already collect fingerprints after booking a suspect. And the Supreme Court has also held that police don’t need a search warrant to collect fingerprints.It isn’t hard to imagine police also forcing a suspect to put his thumb on his iPhone to take a look inside.