Can police take your fingerprint to unlock your cellphone?

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that police must secure a warrant to search an arrestee’s cellphone, as I wrote in a column.

But is a criminal defendant’s cellphone pass code protected?

In an intriguing Virginia case, a judge ruled that police can take a defendant’s fingerprint in order to unlock a cellphone.

But the police can’t require the person to give his cellphone passcode, the judge said, as the Virginian-Pilot reported. 

Lawyers for David Baust, charged with trying to strangle his girlfriend, argued that forcing the defendant to provide a cellphone passcode was a violation of the Fifth Amendment, which prohibits forced self-incrimination.

The judge agreed. Here’s how the Virginian-Pilot describes the judge’s reasoning:

A fingerprint is akin to providing a DNA or handwriting sample or an actual key, which the law permits. A pass code, though, requires the defendant to divulge knowledge, which the law protects against.

It is unknown if using a fingerprint will unlock the defendant’s phone. There is a possibility he used fingerprint and a pass code to secure his phone.

Above: A customer configuring the fingerprint scanner used in iPhone 5S. (AP Photo/Andy Wong) 





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