Biometric phone unlocks can’t be forced by feds, says U.S. judge

Nokia 7.1 fingerprint sensor
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The advance of technology outpacing the law is a commonly held belief, but it seems the law is starting to catch up. A Californian judge has ruled that U.S. law enforcement agencies cannot force suspects to open their smartphones with fingerprint sensors or face unlock.

It was previously the case that such biometric unlocking processes were not protected by the Fifth Amendment in the same way phone passcodes were. In essence, passcodes were viewed as “something you knew,” while biometric logins were viewed as “something you are,” and were thus exempt. However, according to an order uncovered by Forbes, Magistrate Judge Kandis Westmore of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California has denied a request for police to be able to use biometric unlocking methods to open devices seized in a raid.

The request came as a result of an investigation into a Facebook extortion crime, where a victim was blackmailed with a sensitive video. While Westmore admitted the warrant to search the premises was valid, it did not give them the right to use iris, face, or fingerprint sensing to unlock every phone found on the property.

Westmore claimed the request was “overbroad” — but critically held those unlock methods should be protected by the Fifth Amendment’s protections against self-incrimination. She wrote in her rule that “if a person cannot be compelled to provide a passcode because it is a testimonial communication, a person cannot be compelled to provide one’s finger, thumb, iris, face, or other biometric feature to unlock that same device.”

In other such cases, judges have found body parts were not viewed as “testimonial” — unlike passcodes, which have to willing and verbally given up to authorities. As such, previous cases have allowed officers to use biometric unlocking procedures to access suspects’ phones. However, Westmore held the two viewpoints created a paradox — how could these unlocking methods be held to different standards when they all resulted in the same loss of privacy?

It’s wise for fans of personal security not to put too much stock in this ruling yet, as it could still be overturned by another court.

Gaming

The ‘Apex Legends’ Battle Pass and seasonal rewards arrive in March

Apex Legends players can expect seasonal rewards and a Battle Pass to arrive in March according to an FAQ on the EA website. Similar to Fortnite, unlockable seasonal content includes exclusive skins, loot boxes, and more.
Computing

These are the 6 best free antivirus apps to help protect your MacBook

Malware protection is more important than ever, even if you eschew Windows in favor of Apple's desktop platform. Thankfully, protecting your machine is as easy as choosing from the best free antivirus apps for Mac suites.
Gaming

Need help getting the Sleeper Simulant in 'Destiny 2'? We’ve got you covered

The Sleeper Simulant is one of the coolest new Exotic weapons you can unlock in the Warmind expansion of Destiny 2, but it's an involved process that will take awhile. Here's everything you need to know.
Cars

Will Apple sell its Touch ID and Face ID technology to automakers?

Recent patent filings suggest Apple wants its Touch ID and Face ID technologies to spread across the automotive industry. The company outlined how motorists could use their finger or their face to unlock their car.
Mobile

Happy Valentine’s Day! Coffee Meets Bagel dating app data may have been breached

Are you planning on using Coffee Meets Bagel to find love on Valentine's Day? If you've been using the app for a while, you'll probably want to change your password -- the company said a data breach may have taken place before May 2018.
Mobile

Worried about extra data charges? Here's how to check your usage on an iPhone

It's common to get a little nervous about nearing data limits. Keep your peace of mind by checking how much data your iPhone is using. Our guide on how to check data usage on an iPhone helps you stay in control.
Mobile

Exclusive: Take a look at what a next-generation 5G phone will look like

With 5G phones debuting at MWC in mere days, there is discussion about whether they will be clunky bricks that die after a few hours? A reference design from Qualcomm offerrs a glimpse of the future: This is what 5G phones will look like.
Mobile

North Focals smartglasses discount cuts the price by a massive $400

Canadian startup North is hoping smartglasses will be the next big wearable. After announcing its new Focals smartglasses in late 2018, the company opened product showrooms in Brooklyn and Toronto and has made its first shipment.
Mobile

New Apple patent hints clamshell-style foldable phone may be in the works

Apple has filed a patent for a foldable phone that suggests the company could be following in the footsteps of the likes of Samsung and Huawei. The patent describes a clamshell-style foldable phone with two separate sections.
Mobile

Xiaomi Mi 9 will be one of the first phones with monster Snapdragon 855 chip

Xiaomi's next major smartphone release will be the Mi 9, and the company hasn't held back in giving us a good look at the phone, revealing the design, the camera, and a stunning color.
Wearables

Galaxy Watch Active isn't official yet, but you can see it in Samsung's own app

Samsung may be about to resurrect its Sport line of smartwatches under a new name: The Galaxy Watch Sport Active. Leaks and rumors are building our picture of the device at the moment.
Mobile

Stop buying old tablets, says Samsung, buy the new Galaxy Tab S5e instead

Samsung has launched the Galaxy Tab S5e -- the E is for Essential -- a reasonably priced tablet that includes many of the features we like from the Tab A 10.5, and the Tab S4. Here's what you need to know.
Mobile

Bag yourself a bargain with the best budget tablets under $200

The battle for your budget tablet affections is really ramping up. Which tablet, costing less than $200, should be commanding your attention? We take a look at some different options for the budget-conscious.
Computing

What is Wi-Fi 6? Here's a look at the next evolution of the wireless standard

We're exploring the new naming convention for wireless standards, how it affects the devices you buy, and what the upcoming Wi-Fi generation is changing for the better.