Texas judge orders accused man to use his fingerprint to unlock iPhone for evidence

iphone fingerprint unlocking texas 5s touchid
The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution enshrines the right to refuse self-incriminatory searches, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t exceptions. Biometrics are one of them: A judge in Texas has ruled that man accused of prostituting underage girls must unlock his iPhone using his fingerprint.

The written proceedings of the trial of the Dallas, Texas man in question paint a picture of a condemnable abuser. Martavious Banks Keys is alleged to have engaged in the sex trafficking of children over the course of two months, forcing girls as young as 14 to ingest drugs and engage in sexual acts in exchange for $150 “a session.” That’s in addition to a long rap sheet: he was convicted in Mississippi of felony vehicle burglary and is prohibited from possessing firearms.

Keys was indicted on June 7 and his possessions, including a laptop and iPhone 5S, were seized. But authorities encountered difficulty in attempting to unlock his phone, according to a search warrant return recently obtained by Ars Technica. “Unable to obtain forensic acquisition [sic] of the describe device,” a forensic investigator wrote. The report doesn’t go into detail, but the barrier was most likely a default iPhone setting which requires, after 48 hours, the use of both a fingerprint and passcode to unlock it.

It’s unclear whether investigators attempted to extract data from Keys iPhone by some other means first. There’s precedent — the U.S. Justice Department recruited a third party to work around security on an iPhone belonging to the San Bernardino gunman. But whatever the case, Judge Magistrate Judge Irma Ramirez apparently saw merit in the prosecution’s argument. “It is further ordered that Martavious Banks Keys shall cooperate with the Agent selected by the government in providing his fingerprints to aid in unlocking his Apple iPhone Model 5S, currently in the custody of the government,” she wrote in a court order dated May 26.

It’s also unclear whether or not the court compelled Keys to provide his passcode, in addition, or whether or not he complied. Refusal could lead Judge Ramirez to hold him in contempt of court, but, as Ars Technica points out, Keys remains behind bars — in other words, he doesn’t have much motivation to do so.

The Keys case is the latest instance of a lower court ordering defendants to unlock fingerprint-protected devices. In 2014, a judge in Virgina ruled that a man accused of strangling his girlfriend provide use his fingerprint to unlock his iPhone. And more recently in May, a California Judge ordered a woman alleged to have committed identity theft to do the same.

Biometric security is physical evidence

That a fingerprint is less secure than a passcode in the eyes of the law may sound a bit counterintuitive, but the case law is fairly unambiguous. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Riley v. California and United States v. Wurie that investigators can, with a valid search warrant, can compel suspects to forfeit “physical evidence.” A number of legal experts argue that biometric identifiers — e.g., hair, skin, saliva, and fingerprints — fall into that category. “Unlike disclosing passcodes, you are not compelled to speak or say what’s ‘in your mind’ to law enforcement,” Albert Gidari, Stanford Law School’s director of privacy, told the LA Times. “‘Put your finger here’ is not testimonial.”

But others argue that, as society becomes increasingly dependent on biometric forms of security like Apple’s Touch ID and Microsoft’s Hello on Windows, the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination will effectively become meaningless. “[The] government could [eventually] demand that we produce [passwords] without implicating anything we know,” said privacy attorney Marcia Hoffman in a 2013 essay published in Wired. “[That] would make it less likely that a valid privilege against self-incrimination would apply.”

The Supreme Court has yet to hear a case involving the sort of biometric encryption at hand, here. But given the relative consensus among courts thus far — the Supreme Court typically only addresses legal issues which have been interpreted contradictorily by lower courts — a decision in the near future seems unlikely.

Movies & TV

LeBron James’ Space Jam 2 gets an official release date

LeBron James has brought on Black Panther director Ryan Coogler to produce his upcoming Space Jam sequel, with Terence Nance attached to direct the film. Space Jam 2 is expected to hit theaters in July 2021.
Movies & TV

The Obi-Wan Kenobi Star Wars spinoff might be a TV show, not a movie

After years of reports that Obi-Wan Kenobi would get his own Star Wars movie, rumors indicate that the fan-favorite Jedi Master might star in his own streaming television miniseries instead.

Decades-old Apple IIe computer found in dad’s attic, and it still works

A New York law professor went viral last weekend after he discovered an old Apple IIe computer sitting in his dad's attic. In a series of tweets, he showed that the vintage machine still works perfectly fine after 30 years.
Movies & TV

Marvel’s streaming Loki series gets a plot summary and a showrunner

A Rick & Morty writer will oversee Marvel's Loki series for Disney Plus. Tom Hiddleston is expected to reprise his role for the show, while the series' premise offers a few hints as to how Loki might return from the dead.

Where to buy the Samsung Galaxy S10, S10 Plus, and S10e in the U.K.

The Samsung Galaxy S10, S10 Plus, and S10e have all been officially announced and can be pre-ordered right now, with deliveries expected on March 8. If you're in the U.K., this is where you need to go to buy one.

Sony partnership with Light aims to take smartphone photography to new heights

Smartphone photography is in its ascendancy, and a new partnership between Light and Sony hopes to lift it to new heights through the development of multi-image sensor solutions for smartphones. We spoke to Light to find out more.

Samsung says it has set new standard for mobile tech with the 2019 Galaxy range

Samsung launched a host of new products on February 20, with prices ranging from just $35, all the way up to nearly $2,000. This was not by chance, and the company believes it has something for everyone in 2019.

Samsung Galaxy S10 vs. Google Pixel 3: Can Samsung beat the stock Android king?

The Samsung Galaxy S10 is here, offering modern specs, a beautifully high-resolution display, and an edge-to-edge design with a small cutout in the display for the front-facing camera. But can the phone take out the Google Pixel 3?

Protect your iPhone or iPad with the IPVanish VPN, on sale through February

One of our favorite virtual private networks for iPhones and iPads, IPVanish, is now offering a huge discount on its two-year subscription as part of its 7th-birthday promotion. Read on to find out more about how this VPN works and how you…

Verizon is launching real standards-based 5G in 30 cities in 2019

Verizon is in the midst of a massive 5G rollout. In addition to fixed 5G service, it will also begin deploying mobile 5G in the coming months. Here's everything you need to know about Verizon's 5G network and when it will be in your town.

Stay fit and save cash with our top 10 affordable Fitbit alternatives

As much as we love Fitbits, they're rather expensive. If all you want is a simple activity tracker, however, then check out these great cheap Fitbit alternatives. With offerings from brands like Garmin, you don't need to pay full price.

Samsung Galaxy S10e vs. OnePlus 6T: Can the Flagship Killer survive?

The Samsung Galaxy S10e is the new affordable flagship on the block, but at $750, it's $200 more than the OnePlus 6T. Does the Flagship Killer stand a chance against the new generation of flagship devices? Let's take a closer look.

Make some time for the best smartwatch deals for February 2019

Smartwatches make your life easier by sending alerts right on your wrist. Many also provide fitness-tracking features. So if you're ready to take the plunge into wearables and want to save money, read on for the best smartwatch deals.
Product Review

Samsung’s Galaxy Buds are a brilliant combination of value and comfort

With six hours of battery life, an extremely comfortable fit, sweatproofing, and a very palatable price tag, Samsung’s Galaxy Buds are putting all other true wireless earbuds on notice.