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Virginia judge rules police can unlock smartphones with fingerprints
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Oct 31, 2014, 06:07 PM
 
A defendant can be compelled to unlock their smartphone for the police using fingerprints, a Virginia Circuit Court judge has ruled. Judge Steven C. Frucci declared that while a passcode for a smartphone cannot be demanded from a defendant, they can be forced to unlock the device using its built-in fingerprint reader instead, with the ruling calling into question the fingerprint security systems that are becoming more commonplace in mobile devices.

The ruling forms part of a case where an emergency medical services captain was charged in February for attempting to strangle his girlfriend, reports the Virginian Pilot. Prosecutors wanted to access the smartphone to search for video showing the fight, but needed the phone to be unlocked, though the defense argued passcodes are covered by the Fifth Amendment, and cannot be used.

Judge Frucci's ruling states that the use of a fingerprint for unlocking a phone in this case would be permitted, as it is similar to DNA and other biological evidence which can be collected by law enforcement. A passcode or PIN is protected, as it requires the defendant to divulge knowledge. If a smartphone is protected by both a fingerprint and a passcode, requiring both to be used, the passcode element continues to protect the phone's contents.

The ruling comes at a time when smartphone encryption is under close scrutiny, as the Federal Bureau of Investigation asks for updates to be made to the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act. FBI Director James Comey has spoken out about the matter, asking Google and Apple to think carefully before encrypting everything by default, and complaining about the difficulties of accessing electronic evidence, even with the legal right to do so.
     
prl99
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Oct 31, 2014, 06:24 PM
 
This will be fought in an appeals court. If they want to take my fingerprints, go ahead, but forcing me to touch a device to open it brings into protection against self-incrimination. This judge was bought off by the DOJ and FBI and if it reaches the Supreme Court, that group better protect the constitution of the people over government overreach. Let them try and use my fingerprints to open my phone but I'll smear it until it requires my passcode, then I don't have to give them that. What law school did this bum go to?
     
Mike Wuerthele
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Oct 31, 2014, 08:52 PM
 
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

If the phone has gone 48 hours without use, it locks anyway. I bet in the case here, that the phone has been in police custody SO LONG, that the 48 hour time period has elapsed anyhow.
     
Amber Neely
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Oct 31, 2014, 11:59 PM
 
Eesh.

This seems all kinds of problematic. I don't agree that my fingerprints should be treated as analogous to my DNA. I kinda agree with the whole "self-incrimination" bit. Though I'm baffled as to why they would search the guy's phone for video of him strangling his girlfriend. Who records that kind of stuff? I dunno. It's an interesting thing to actually think about, especially because it involves, presumably, a level of physical coercion to get a person to touch a fingerprint scanner to unlock a device.
     
prl99
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Nov 1, 2014, 09:09 AM
 
The more I think about the ramifications of this ruling the more I get worried for a person's rights. Saying a fingerprint, which is used to unlock a device, is the same as taking DNA will be extending to all biometric locks, not just the iPhone. Anyone with a voice-activated lock will be required to speak. Locks, including major security access points using retina scans or full hand prints (yes, they do exist), will fall under this ruling. At this point, it looks like this judge has set the precedent to force someone to do whatever a judge demands them to do without any protection at all. Entering the passcode will be next because the next judge will say that's the same as getting fingerprints. Pandora's box is now open and nobody is safe. Happy Halloween, the judicial goblins have appears in force.
     
bbh
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Nov 1, 2014, 09:56 AM
 
As has been mentioned before, we ARE a "poilice state". The only thing Orwell got wrong was the date.
     
Cold Warrior
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Nov 1, 2014, 12:18 PM
 
It won't sit in custody with a chance to auto-lock if this ruling stands. Forced print unlocks will be the same as forced blood or breathalyzer -- taken to preserve evidence for future prosecution. Get the print, copy and decrypt the phone, review at leisure.
     
Mike Wuerthele
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Nov 1, 2014, 12:34 PM
 
Oh, sure, going forward it won't, but the verdict is likely useless in this case. Can you imagine the furor if Apple implemented a "safe finger," one that would wipe the phone if used?
     
phillymjs
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Nov 1, 2014, 02:10 PM
 
"If a smartphone is protected by both a fingerprint and a passcode, requiring both to be used, the passcode element continues to protect the phone's contents."

So in the case of an iPhone, couldn't you just shut the phone off before the cops ask for it? It will then require a passcode on reboot and they cannot force you to unlock it.
     
cmdahler
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Nov 1, 2014, 10:27 PM
 
"So in the case of an iPhone, couldn't you just shut the phone off before the cops ask for it? It will then require a passcode on reboot and they cannot force you to unlock it."

That would require a little forethought and a modicum of intelligence, which the vast majority of criminals do not have in the first place.
     
TheMacOracle
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Nov 2, 2014, 01:08 AM
 
This is a horrible ruling that needs to be overturned. But don't forget the Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that police may not search the cell phones of criminal suspects upon arrest without a warrant.
     
just a poster
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Nov 9, 2014, 10:54 PM
 
Maybe having a smartphone isn't so smart.
     
   
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