U.S. government wants your fingerprints to unlock your phone

“As the world watched the FBI spar with Apple this winter in an attempt to hack into a San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone, federal officials were quietly waging a different encryption battle in a Los Angeles courtroom,” Matt Hamilton and Richard Winton report for The Los Angeles Times.

“There, authorities obtained a search warrant compelling the girlfriend of an alleged Armenian gang member to press her finger against an iPhone that had been seized from a Glendale home,” Hamilton and Winton report. “The phone contained Apple’s fingerprint identification system for unlocking, and prosecutors wanted access to the data inside it.”

“The Glendale case and others like it are forcing courts to address a basic question: How far can the government go to obtain biometric markers such as fingerprints and hair?” Hamilton and Winton report. “The U.S. Supreme Court has held that police can search phones with a valid warrant and compel a person in custody to provide physical evidence such as fingerprints without a judge’s permission. But some legal experts say there should be a higher bar for biometric data because providing a fingerprint to open a digital device gives the state access to a vast trove of personal information and could be a form of self-incrimination.”

“Apple’s fingerprint sensor, known as Touch ID, is installed on phones and tablets rolled out after 2013, and the optional feature has a narrow window during which it is viable for an investigator. The Touch ID biometric reader cannot be used if the phone has not been unlocked for 48 hours. If a phone is restarted, or goes beyond the 48-hour window, only a passcode can open it,” Hamilton and Winton report. “Few courts have taken up the issue of whether a defendant can be forced to unlock his or her iPhone, either with a password or fingerprint.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take:

You carry forever the fingerprint that comes from being under someone’s thumb. — Nancy Banks-Smith


        1. “you [sic] weren’t asked to place your index finger across a scanner?” No. Not in any way.

          “hmm [sic], I find it most believable and highly probable that “Truth Seeker” and “Shadowself” are indeed, one and the same commenter.”

          Not even close. If you’d pay even the smallest attention to this site you’d have known that I have been posting here under this handle for many, many years. I don’t post as anyone else. My statements, whether recounting facts (which I know you abhor) or stating my opinion, are always directly signed by me.

          Oh, and I’ve been using this handle for well over 25 years. There are others out there on some boards using the same handle, but this one is the real me.

        2. And I find it most believable that the United States has 50 states, a federal district, and a number of commonwealths and territories, each of which has its own laws, agencies, and regulations governing driving permits. I do not assume that the Texas Legislature governs everybody… And you should be grateful for that!

        3. That was my point. If you were from Texas, you would not have been required to give a fingerprint. Most Texas drivers renew online. I do not assume that your state follows Texas law. Why should you assume that every other state follows your local peculiarities?

        4. I live in Ohio. We have never required a fingerprint, only a photo. You must be from New York, so I’m surprised they don’t take a semen and stool sample from you also. But, you guys adopted Hillary, so I’m not surprised at anything that state does with the “bend over” acceptance of the people.

    1. Florida, Texas, California and New York have the most advanced Department of Motor Vehicles and Licenses and none require a fingerprint.

  1. Oh such in depth questions and comments, with such varied answers. Let’s have a look.

    Q. The government wants your fingerprint to unlock your phone. Should that be allowed?
    A. For the free and civilized world of course not, for others it’s Jawohl mein führer.

    Q. The Glendale case and others like it are forcing courts to address a basic question: How far can the government go to obtain biometric markers such as fingerprints and hair?

    A. If you are a totalitarian government devoid of ethics, morality and will stoop so low as to torture and incarcerate people indefinitely without justice you can go all the way where the sun don’t shine. That’s even without lubrication.

    Now for the comments: “It marked a rare time that prosecutors have demanded a person provide a fingerprint to open a computer, but experts expect such cases to become more common as cracking digital security becomes a larger part of law enforcement work.”

    – Of course it’s going to become more common, once your learn to dehumanize a group of people by simply calling them enemy combatants you can learn to dehumanize any and everybody. It will probably be the patriotic thing to do in some places.

    – One guy, “Brenner said the act of compelling a person in custody to press her finger against a phone breached the 5th Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination.” while another guy “Albert Gidari, the director of privacy at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society, said the action might not violate the 5th Amendment prohibition of self-incrimination.”

    Obviously a good clear cut amendment would be one that everyone can agree upon. Crap amendments not so much. Of course even then there are those who wish to put themselves above the law and when it comes to that nation, it’s mission accomplished.

    1. There is no question that an officer can obtain a lawful warrant to obtain a fingerprint to check against a latent print left at a crime scene. Similarly, there is no question that an officer with a lawful warrant can search an unencrypted device. Why would it be a problem to combine the two lawful acts into a single workflow, obtaining the fingerprint in order to read the phone? (Assuming, of course, that each search or seizure is pursuant to an individual warrant that conforms to the requirements set out in the Constitution and statutes.)

      1. The coerced use of fingerprints for access to digital files on a mobile device is wholly protected under the Fifth Amendment. The government cannot make a suspect provide evidence against himself…the founding fathers found this amendment real handy in preventing the Inquisition coming to the United States. Those ol’ boys were purty danged smart.

        1. And I find it most probable that you made that up, just like you made up the universal fingerprint scan for a driver’s license. The police fingerprint people without their consent hundreds of times every day. Why would using a fingerprint match to unlock something be any different, constitutionally, from using a match to connect someone to the bloody fingerprint on a murder weapon?

        2. “…the founding fathers found this amendment real handy in preventing the Inquisition coming to the United States.”

          Botty, just making stuff up again? Flunk world history, did you? The Spanish Inquisition, which almost all people refer to as “the inquisition”, started in the 1400s and was virtually 100% over by the late 1600s (even though the Spanish Crown did not issue a royal decree outlawing it until the early 1800s).

          There was no way the Inquisition was going to move into the U.S. post 1793. It was already a dead movement even in Spain and Europe in general long before the U.S. Constitution was ratified. Even the Roman Catholic Church had backed completely away from such actions before that date.

          But, if, per chance, you were referring to the smaller version in Mexico, that too was virtually dead by about 1700, long before the Bill of Rights was ratified.

        3. It may interest you to know that the Holy Inquisition (as opposed to the Spanish Inquisition) virtually never used “excessive” methods (by the standards of the time) in its operation. They are often confused with the Spanish Inquisition because so many Spanish priests (and bishops, and cardinals) had roles in both the Church and the State, and saw no difference between the two. (Clerics are no longer permitted by the Church to hold positions of public authority, btw.)

          The Holy Inquisition was actually never disbanded; its name today is the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and it still investigates heresies, and recommends ecclesiastical disciplines for the unrepentant.

          Just a bit of trivia for those interested.

        4. Indeed  And one of its ex-heads was one Josef Ratzinger, the Vatican’s C**t in Chief until he abdicated in favour of a more palatable scumbag.

        5. It was an analogy to police investigative tactics that would use torture to coerce false testimony from a suspect. I didn’t literally mean The Inquisition itself.

      2. Hey TxUser, glad to have your input.

        “There is no question that an officer can obtain a lawful warrant to obtain a fingerprint to check against a latent print left at a crime scene.”

        The intent here is to is to see if someone was at the scene of a crime or in the case of a weapon being use wether or not that person handle the weapon. The intent is not to make a fingerprint copy or clone to activate a device. If that were the case then if there were several fingerprints at the scene of a crime then several fingerprint copies/clones could be used to attempt to unlock the iphone. It’s not the point of the fingerprint. Mind you yes that could be changed, I’ve seen how your country changes and circumvents laws to their liking. I just have to look at the Geneva convention in the trash can to be reminded of that.

        For the second situation I have no qualms with “Similarly, there is no question that an officer with a lawful warrant can search an unencrypted device.” but I’m gathering that it’s an encrypted device so the point is not relevant.

        What really worries me about the article is the use of the word “compel”. I’ve heard stories on how folks from your country compel people, hence the reference to the Guantanamo on the Bay resort.

        From reading this is that I think a lot of people would not use the fingerprint reader on an iPhone and go uniquely with a very good pass code.

        Mind you the point is moot, it’s not my country so you are free to do what you want. Gauging from these precedents I think it’s a fait accompli and those who wish privacy and security will move away from fingerprint ID to pass codes, though I think there will be ways to “compel” people to provide that when required.

        One neat thing is that now folks will be able to use cold dead fingers to open an iPhone.

        So overall, regarding your comments:

        1 What’s the purpose the intent of a fingerprint? To see where you’ve been and what you’ve used, or to make you go somewhere or use something (using the fingerprint as a key as one would do to open a safe as the article states) ? I have no qualms with the other two items if someone is compelled, though coming from your country that sounds really really gruesome.

        2. If a phone is encrypted it shows intent towards security and privacy. Again it comes down to the idea of something that is “not-searchable” and at the time of the writing of this Amendment the relevant items “persons, houses, papers, and effects” were all searchable. Now there is an invention that is getting close to not being searchable. The amendment doesn’t cover that because it assumes that all things are searchable and at the time of writing was true. Today it’s getting a bit more in the gray zone.

        Thanks for the food for thought TxUser, I’ll be mulling it over.

        1. Since we are into asking questions:

          1. What country do you call home?

          2. Do you really think that I can’t search the Internet efficiently enough to quickly find examples of reprehensible government conduct in your country’s history at least equal to Guantanamo?

          3. Do you expect us to believe that your government does not have the functional equivalent of search and arrest warrants, or that the procedures used there provide substantially more protection to your citizens than the lawful procedures here?

          4. What is your evidence that police or government misconduct in the USA is substantially more common than in your country?

        2. 1. I’m from one of the top 32 “green” countries from the global peace index. I call the planet home, you can also look up the concept of global citizen.

          2. Heck there is no need to search the internet to find examples of historical reprehensible government conduct of the country I’m currently residing in there are lots, well at least a few. Equal to Guantanamo? Not even close and let me explain why. First I don’t consider this a historical issue, more of a current event. Second, it’s a devolving step, and this is a question of perspective.

          Torture, for example, can be viewed as an evolved step, if one considers using it as a form of information extraction. After all you have to create a language for it to be functional for information extraction as opposed to using it simply for bullying, revenge or schadenfreude purposes.

          For those who realize that it’s a terrible way of extracting information, and who have moved beyond that concept, torture can also be an indication of devolution from a once advanced freedom loving society now seduced by the allure of fear and hate. Essentially that’s the crux of the matter, your nation has shifted direction and is devolving in that respect.

          Add to this that while the torture itself has stopped that country still keeps that detention center open and is still denying justice for the 80 or so people incarcerated there. Furthermore no one have been charged for any war crime or crime against humanity. I mean it’s such a blatant act against humanity, but the president of that nation In 2009, decided to not to prosecute the previous president by saying “we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.” That’s such a bullet proof defense for some I guess, I’m surprised it’s not used more often. For others though it’s justice denied and it’s putting people above the law or distorting the law to suit the government as opposed to the will of the people. Of course there is a precedent, the “Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service” for example was one of the laws that allowed the Nazis to do whatever they wanted to Jews. It was perfectly legal. Once they learned to dehumanize Jews, they learned to dehumanize others, hence the master race idea.

          Mind you, there is a lawsuit against Bruce Jessen and James E. Mitchell that may shed some light on the use of torture at Guantanamo Bay.

          At any rate what I see from your nation in that respect is a devolution, a reversion to a simpler more primitive form. A classic example is a species of cave fish believed to have lost the ability to see over many generations because it simply does not need it anymore as it lives in a cave. That’s an important perspective because it gives context as to where one is coming from and where one is going.

          3. Of course my government has the functional equivalent of search and arrest warrants, very similar to yours and I have no qualms about it, i.e. I’m in agreement with most of what you are saying and I’m keeping an open mind and mulling over quite a bit on this issue because what your country adopts will more than likely make a lot of sense.

          For example, you comment: “Why would using a fingerprint match to unlock something be any different, constitutionally, from using a match to connect someone to the bloody fingerprint on a murder weapon?” makes a lot of sense to a degree, but in keeping an open mind I consider the intent of the finger print:
          – As evidence to connect someone being at the scene of a crime, or having used a weapon.
          That’s fine it’s been in use for a long time.
          – As a tool to obtain information, in this case to use it (or a copy) to unlock an iphone.
          That may be fine too. One could argue that it’s not different than a key found around a suspect’s neck that is taken as evidence and used to unlock a safe found at the crime scene. That’s more than collecting evidence, it’s using evidence as a tool. I think the law allows for that even though the way I read it, that amendment is about searching “persons, houses, papers, and effects” for evidence, not using those persons, houses, papers and effects as tools. If I’m wrong and a key found at the crime scene can be used to unlock a safe then a person can be used to unlock an iphone. Just grab the person and make him or her press the iphone. Again I’m not a law expert so my interpretation of evidence is to examine it, not use it. I could be wrong.

          4. Oh gee I’d have to spend a lot of time looking into that, especially on the misconduct side of things and it’s a slippery slope because what’s viewed as misconduct here might be all right there. You seem to be all right with side stepping the UN and going into an Iraqi war sequel at one point. We would not dream of doing that here. Iceland for example (#1 on the Global Peace Index) has had one fatal shooting in that country’s 71 years of existence. The US police kill more in days than other countries do in years. It’s not necessarily misconduct but it’s another indication that your nation is a very violent one compared to many others on the planet.

          Again thank you for your comments and questions, you really enrich the site. If we had a private way of communication I’d be happy to share exactly where I am from but from prior experience I try to keep that minimal.

          Let me be clear, I’m pro humanity and I hope that one day your country will return to that approach. I’m very supportive of that.

        3. Petulant child, aside from being a troll and not having the integrity to answer TxUser’s quite resonance questions, don’t you have a job you should be doing instead of spending valuable time on your frivolous scribblings?

        4. Hey it’s the ad hominem attacker with the petulant child diatribe. I feel I’ve answered TxUser’s questions in a polite and courteous manner, added my thoughts to the issue at hand and have provided an explanation to the one question I did not answer.
          Now in response to your thoughts on the issue, oh wait as per usual, you did not make any, you just went for the personal attack. And you call me a troll. Ha.

          I won’t bother answering your question, all you seem to be able to do is make personal attacks and forgo anything at all to the discussion at hand.

        5. “I feel I’ve answered TxUser’s questions in a polite and courteous manner…”. Sugarcoating your attacks does not in any way lessen them and is classic passive aggressive behavior. Answer his question, what “free and civilized” country do you hail from. Put up or shut up!

          As I said before, those who live in glass houses shouldn’t be throwing stones.

          As for my description of your behavior, ad hominem it may be. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t hit the mark squarely on your angry and decrepit soul.

        6. Oh gosh please point out the attack I made upon TxUser within my answer. I certainly did not intend any.

          I have the freedom of will to refuse answering a question, and I certainly do not have to subscribe to alternatives you offer. I can keep talking and not put up, it’s a viable alternative and you are powerless to make me do otherwise.

          Of course when personal attacks are great when one is unable to provide any input of the issue at hand or when attacking is the only tool one has. By all means continue, it’s your free will.

        7. Go ahead JWSC as you add to your petulant child pile of troll and coward, it’s a lot better than being the bottom of the barrel scum from a nation that tortures people and fails to take responsibility for it. You obviously can’t follow through with your put up or shut threat, so keep on with your attack tool, the attempted insults, depending on where you are from it can be a very patriotic thing to do.

    2. The government typically compels every arrested to finger printing. This has been done since the 20th century. These fingerprints are compared to those found on weapon or at the scene of a crime. However, your passcode is YOUR passcode and I do not think that the government can compel people to reveal their passcodes. This could be viewed as self incrimination.

      1. Yup we are on the same page there Joe. My concern (very minimal as I’m not a citizen of that nation) is that the government can and does compel people to reveal all sorts of information. Or are you implying that those who have been tortured at the Guantanamo on the Bay Resort are not real people? They way they have been inhumanely treated I’d tend to think that the implication is very real.

        Have a good week.

      2. I have been advised by lawyers right here at MDN, in the comments, that the authorities can obtain warrants and access your premises for a search. If you don’t hand over the key, they can pick the lock. But if the entry is protected not with a keyed lock, but with an electronic passcode, they can’t force you to reveal that since it’s in your head.

        But now I wonder, if the electronic lock used retinal scan like at Fort Meade, would they have the right to force you to look into the scanner? The eyes are in the head! Do the laws differentiate between organs in the head, or do they ignore the fine points of the human nervous system completely and just specify thought—as if thought is still as well-defined as it was in 1789, which is my point—I think they are moving the line.

      1. Criminals and terrorists are savvy enough to use burner phones. Let’s be clear. The Feds want access to all citizens’ devices not just criminals and terrorists.

        1. For the sake of argument, I will postulate that the government doesn’t want “access to all citizen’s devices.”

          I see the government wanting total control.

  2. the TouchID sensor has a unique feature of using a scanner which requires depth to the skin it is scanning. Mere printed fingerprints wouldn’t work. So compelling someone to place their finger on the TouchID home button is the only way to unlock an iPhone other than entering the passcode. Chilling times indeed.

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