Police warrant seeks to unlock cellphone with user's biometrics

March 04, 2019 - 3:30 am

By Amy E. Feldman, Judge Technology Solutions

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A California court recently decided whether the police have the right to make you open your cell phone — with your face.

California police wanted to access Facebook Messenger communications as part of an investigation, so they asked a judge to give them a warrant to search the locked phone. 

Police can't get a warrant to make a person give his numeric passcode, because that's akin to requiring someone to give testimony that would incriminate himself, which is a violation of his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. 

But what if you don't have to say or type a word? What if your face or your fingerprint unlocks your phone? Can the police get a warrant to require the use of your so-called biometric information? 

The judge said that authorities can't force people to unlock devices with their faces or fingerprints, so she denied the warrant — a small but important victory for privacy advocates. 

That said, the judge pointed out that while she wouldn't force the suspect to open his phone, Facebook cooperates with police investigations, so the police could get it from them instead. 

Oh well. So much for privacy.