Should the federal government be allowed to get a search warrant that compels someone to unlock a phone using their fingerprint?
It’s the issue at the center of a legal case that was going on as the world watched and waited to see whether Apple would buckle to the FBI’s demand that it help unlock the smartphone that belonged to Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the suspects in the San Bernardino mass shooting. The girlfriend of an Armenian gang member was compelled, through a search warrant, to use her fingerprint to unlock a phone that police had taken from a Glendale home.
The case is raising larger questions about how high the bar should be set when it comes to law enforcement obtaining biometric data, like hair or fingerprints. Some think that compelling someone to use a fingerprint to unlock a phone could be a violation of one’s 5th Amendment right not to incriminate oneself because the data on the phone is all about the owner. Therefore, forcing that person to open the phone could be self-incrimination. Others say that so long as the proper legal channels were used to obtain the search warrant, there is no violation.
Should the bar for obtaining biometric data be higher for law enforcement?
George M. Dery III, a lawyer and criminal justice professor at California State University, Fullerton