Police will not be able to unlock confiscated smartphones without owner’s permission

According to the judge who issued the order, this is tantamount to violating the U.S. Constitution Fifth Amendment

A judge in the United States denied the police an order to unlock several devices with biometric identifiers (such as fingerprint register or facial recognition). According to network security specialists at the International Institute of Cyber Security, this is a decision that could help strengthen the privacy of smart device owners.

The order of Judge Kandis Westmore, California, was issued in response to a government request to search and seize devices found in a local in Oakland, California, linked to suspects in a criminal case.

According to the reports of ethical hacking and network security experts, suspects are involved in an attempted extortion via Facebook Messenger; allegedly, suspects would have threatened a person by posting an intimate video if they did not make an economic transfer.

Judge Westmore mentioned in her order that the authorities did have a probable cause to ask for the device unlocking, but she decided to deny the request because it was too broad, and could be extended to people outside the investigation.  Westmore considers this measure to be inattentive to the provisions of the Fifth Amendment of the United States, which mentions that no individual shall be compelled to testify against himself/herself.

The judge told the authorities that they could file a more restricted order, making it clear that the owners of the devices will not have to testify against themselves, as set forth in the Fifth Amendment of the United States. The judge believes that unlocking smartphones using biometric records infringes on this statute.

During the trial Carpenter vs. the U.S., the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the government violated the Fourth Amendment (protection against unreasonable search and confiscation) because it collected smartphone location data without a warrant, which was a great victory for the users, as considered by experts in network security.

Privacy advocacy groups also argue that the authorities should not force people to unlock their devices, as this action would mean an attack on the Fifth Amendment.

However, this protection has not been extended to biometric identifiers; there are cases in which the authorities have forced the fingerprint application on a smartphone sensor to unlock it.

Some judges have ruled that unlocking a smartphone using the owner’s fingerprint is different from forcing them to deliver the password. On the other hand, Judge Westmore does not consider it to be different cases. “A fingerprint has the same purpose as a password, which is to ensure the content of the owner, work the same in practice,” the judge says.