6 May 2016

Govt can make you unlock your phone

The Blog

Noting the arrival of "biometric" authentication methods on smartphones, Garrison Center Director Thomas L. Knapp argues it "comes with a cost".

The focus here is on using one's fingerprint to unlock one's phone. Considering rulings in Virginia and California that you can be "forced to put your finger on the phone to unlock it", the technology is being used as an excuse for US authorities to violate the Constitution in new ways.

As explained by Knapp, "Giving the police access to your phone is no different than telling them about every call you made". This goes against the strong components of the law that prevent you from "testifying against yourself, which you cannot constitutionally be required to do."

The state is normally limited in when and how it can coerce individuals to incriminate themselves. For example, "If the door is locked, they can break it down, but you don’t have to unlock it for them. If they find your hidden compartment full of evidence, they find it. But you don’t have to show them where it is, or even tell them that it exists."

What will you do about the increasing use of biometric data, when you know you can be coerced to unlock your property using it? For now, Knapp advises you need to "secure your phone with a long and complex pass code, not with your fingerprint."

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