Free Minds & Free Markets

Judge Rules Police Cannot Require People to Unlock Their Own iPhones With Thumb or Iris: New at Reason

Compelled use of facial and finger recognition features runs afoul of the Fifth Amendment.


A recent court ruling highlights the importance of strong legal protections for smartphone privacy--and should remind us that current law does only a scattershot job of protecting our electronic data.

In an opinion published January 10, a federal magistrate judge in Oakland, California, ruled that the Fifth Amendment's protections against self-incrimination extend to phones equipped with biometric locks. Federal police can search a residence, the court ruled, but may not force anyone present during a search to hold their finger, thumb, iris, or other body part up against a phone to try to unlock it.

This opinion follows a series of cases involving compelled disclosures of passphrases that unlock mobile phones. Some courts, but not all, have reached the conclusion that forcing a criminal defendant to divulge a passphrase runs afoul of the Fifth Amendment, which says no person "shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself," writes Declan McCullagh in his latest for Reason.

Photo Credit: Kamachi209/


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