The ability to secure a smartphone with a fingerprint is one that is now almost a given on any high-end smartphone these days, and that’s great news for those who advocate privacy and the security if our data.
In a world where entering a PIN is apparently too slow for most people, using a fingerprint to unlock our smartphones and tablets, and in some cases, our computers, is seen as a perfect combination of security and ease-of-use. Unfortunately, however, the use of fingerprint technology may be leaving people open to being forced to unlock their devices for the government.
While at the current moment, users cannot be forced to enter their PIN or passcodes in order to unlock their devices, it is now claimed that a fingerprint is not afforded the same luxury, and that could change everything. Going back to 2014, a Virginia Circuit Court ruled that while suspects cannot be forced to provide phone passcodes or PINs, biometric data such as fingerprints doesn’t benefit the same constitutional protection.
That has led to various authorities attempting to force users to unlock their devices, but things may be about to get worse.
According to court documents filed earlier this year in California, federal prosecutors claimed that a warrant to force users, en-masse, to provide their fingerprints in order to unlock a device would be just fine even though “the government does not know ahead of time the identity of every digital device or every fingerprint (or indeed, every other piece of evidence) that it will find in the search.” The reason? Simply because “it has demonstrated probable cause that evidence may exist at the search location.” Worried yet?
According to defence lawyer Marina Medvin, such a move would be an “unbelievably audacious abuse of power if it were permitted.” But that doesn’t mean it isn’t something that could happen. “You need to have a reasonable basis before you begin the search—that reasonable basis is what allows you to search in the first place,” Medvin told Forbes. “If this kind of thing became law then there would be nothing to prevent… a search of every phone at a certain location.”
That sounds scary. Very scary indeed.
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