Federal officers can't force people to unlock their iPhone with biometrics, such as finger or face access, according to a recent ruling from the U.S. District Court in Northern California. Previously, the feds were allowed to force this kind of entry while not being allowed to force an individual to reveal a password. This new decision treats all logins as equal and may be a landmark case in terms of privacy rights. The ruling applies to federal officers operating in Missouri and all states throughout the country.
The case involved in this ruling involved a Facebook extortion crime where the police wanted to open up any phone found during the search of properties. Even though the investigators showed probable cause for searching, they didn't have the power to open all devices by forcing user input. One judge ruled that the request was overly broad because it was not limited to any particular person or device.
The most important part of the ruling is the right of people to not incriminate themselves, even with a warrant, when it comes to providing their fingerprint or other biometrics. In the past, courts didn't view biometric features as testimonial, so they did not fall under the protections provided by the fifth amendment. This decision could be overturned by a higher court.
When a lawyer provides criminal defense for their client, an important part of their responsibility is to ensure that any gathering of evidence was done legally. In the event that a police officer or investigator obtained evidence from a phone improperly, including forcing someone to use their password, an attorney may be able to get that evidence thrown out in court. Defendants may wish to seek counsel from an attorney as soon as possible in all types of criminal cases.