Police Can't Force You to Unlock an iPhone Using Face ID or Touch ID, California Judge Rules

Discussion in 'Politics, Religion, Social Issues' started by MacRumors, Jan 14, 2019.

  1. MacRumors macrumors bot


    Apr 12, 2001

    Law enforcement officials can't force smartphone users to unlock their devices using fingerprints or other biometric features such as facial recognition, according to a Northern California court ruling from last week.

    The ruling, which was shared this morning by Forbes, was the result of an Oakland investigation into possible extortion. Police officers asked the court for permission to seize multiple devices and then compel the suspects to unlock the devices using biometric authentication.


    The court said that there was indeed probable cause to grant a search warrant, but that it was denied because the request to force the suspects to unlock their devices using biometric authentication "funs afoul of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments." From the ruling:
    In further analysis, the court equated biometric authentication to a passcode rather than something like submitting to a DNA swab. It has been previously established that under the Fifth Amendment, a suspect cannot be compelled to provide the passcode of a device.

    Biometric features like Touch ID and Face ID, said the court, serve the same purpose as a passcode, securing the owner's content, "pragmatically rendering them functionally equivalent."

    The ruling also made an interesting point about the urgency with which law enforcement officials attempt to get a suspect to unlock a device biometrically, because after a device is passcode locked (iPhones will passcode lock after a short period without a biometric unlock), the government can't compel a person to enter the passcode. This urgency essentially confirms that a passcode and a biometric lock are one and the same.
    Biometric authentication measures have been a hotly debated topic, and previous rulings have suggested that Touch ID and Face ID are not equivalent to a passcode, though most rulings have pertained to Touch ID as Face ID is newer.

    This has allowed law enforcement to force suspects to unlock their iPhones and other devices using biometric authentication. In October, for example, the FBI was able to force a man accused of child abuse to unlock his iPhone using Face ID.

    The California court's most recent ruling could potentially have an impact on future court cases of this type, perhaps putting an end to the practice of forced biometric smartphone unlocking and the belief that a passcode is not equivalent to a biometric lock.

    For now, though, Apple has implemented a method to quickly and temporarily disable Touch ID and Face ID by pressing on the side button of recent iPhones five times in quick succession.

    Note: Due to the political nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Politics, Religion, Social Issues forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.

    Article Link: Police Can't Force You to Unlock an iPhone Using Face ID or Touch ID, California Judge Rules
  2. DrJohnnyN macrumors 65816


    Jan 27, 2010
  3. sjinsjca macrumors 68020


    Oct 30, 2008
    This issue is now officially all over the map. Previously, biometrics were not regarded as "testimony", as passwords were by at least some courts in the U.S. This judge disagrees. Cue the Supremes.
  4. jonblatho macrumors 6502a


    Jan 20, 2014
    A step in the right direction, but as another said, it means little until a Supreme Court case inevitably comes about (through an appeal on this ruling or another case altogether) and delivers the final word on this matter.
  5. jscooper22 macrumors regular


    Feb 8, 2013
    Syracuse, NY
    TouchID and passcodes I get, but in practical terms, how can you stop someone from holding your phone in front of you?
  6. JosephAW macrumors 68000


    May 14, 2012
    Yet they can hold you down and take a blood sample.
  7. dogslobber macrumors 68040


    Oct 19, 2014
    Apple Campus, Cupertino CA
    What if somebody tattoos their fingerprints on their forehead? Does that mean they are protected (Face ID) or not (Touch ID)?
  8. mudslag macrumors regular


    Oct 18, 2010

    They need a warrant to take blood if you initially refuse.
  9. NachoGrande macrumors 6502a

    Mar 30, 2010
    With a warrant.
  10. charlituna macrumors G3


    Jun 11, 2008
    Los Angeles, CA
    According to the article, there were warrants for the data in your phone also.
  11. Porco macrumors 68030


    Mar 28, 2005

    And likewise, what if someone carves an exact miniature replica of their face into one of their fingers? :D
  12. now i see it macrumors 68030

    Jan 2, 2002
    Just prepare for a looooong detention if refusing to open your phone when requested by law enforcement.
  13. acctman macrumors 65816


    Oct 26, 2012
    lock down or close your eyes... but even if they forced you, the evidence could not be used against you... any lawyer would jump on a chance to take a case where you've been forced.
  14. niji Contributor


    Feb 9, 2003
    the distinction between entering a passcode to unlock, and, using any biometric to unlock (face or finger) has been ridiculously insane for any court to upheld.

    loving both california and new york!
  15. McG2k1 macrumors regular

    Jun 22, 2011
    Previously it was ‘something you know’ is protected, like a password, but ‘something you have’ is not, like a face.
  16. macsrcool1234 macrumors 65816

    Oct 7, 2010
    Thank god someone rules this. It's absurd you can't force over a passcode but you can be forced to unlock with biometrics.

    Hopefully it's upheld.
  17. truthertech macrumors 68000

    Jun 24, 2016
    Before anyone gets too excited either way, remember this is just one judge, in one court, out of many thousands, and has no precedent value whatsoever.
  18. marco114 macrumors 6502


    Jul 17, 2001
    About time! I totally agree with this. It's an invasion of privacy.
  19. EdT macrumors 65816


    Mar 11, 2007
    Omaha, NE
    Yes, but that's no different from any other type of search then. They need a judge to agree that there's probable cause to do a search.
  20. bradl macrumors 68040


    Jun 16, 2008
    It would be like this:

    Something you are (biometrics)
    Something you know (password)
    something you have (token or cipher)

    For complete security, you could use all three, and even be able to give up two of them. But as long as they don't have the 3rd, you'd still be secure. Case in point:

    If you had a mechanism in place where you needed to supply the something you have, you can refuse and be protected. For example, let's say your password was flight number of a flight you recently took. If they forced you to give up your fingerprint for TouchID (something you are), refused to give them your password (something you know) and even gave them the flight schedules for every flight that airline makes (something you have), they still have to figure out what it is from that cipher that makes up your password, still leaving you secure; and on top of that, just because the flight number is there doesn't mean that your password is there.

    So right now, they could force you to supply one of the three above (two, with a warrant) still leaving you secure. This ruling now makes it so they can't force that one, and could get one with a warrant (the something you have).

    BTW, OP: I should report this thread, as there is already one here, posted earlier than yours. ;) :D

  21. ArtOfWarfare macrumors G3


    Nov 26, 2007
    And when it does, the evidence won't be admissible in court.
  22. thisisnotmyname macrumors 68000


    Oct 22, 2014
    known but velocity indeterminate
    Interesting ruling. This is on the fringe though and I expect it to be overturned.
  23. DoctorTech macrumors 6502


    Jan 6, 2014
    Indianapolis, IN
    Very happy to see this. I agree this will almost certainly be appealed and it is anyone's guess what SCOTUS will do with it. Privacy issues are one area where traditional "Left / Right" dividing lines sometimes blur. Now, if a judge would just hand down a similar ruling on all the mobile devices being searched / cloned / confiscated by people re-entering the country after foreign travel.
  24. usarioclave macrumors 65816

    Sep 26, 2003
    The basis of the denial was that the police wanted to unlock all the phones found at the residence, not just the phones belonging to two people in question ie: the request was too broad. Once the scope of the request was narrowed to the phones belonging to the people in question then the actual issue of whether biometric security is protected will be adjudicated.
  25. saudade macrumors 6502


    Sep 8, 2015
    I don’t care. Give them 3 fake passwords until the phone got deleted automatically. No proof no crime dude because the right of the people 2 b secure in their papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated and no warrants shall issue you know what i mean? Ill b free in 5 minutes just like that

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