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Idaho Court Issues Warrant Forcing a Person to Use their Fingerprint to Unlock a Cellphone

Posted by Christi Schofield | Aug 04, 2019 | 0 Comments

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On July 26, an Idaho federal court evaluated whether forcing a person to use their fingerprint to unlock a cellphone violates their constitutional right against self-incrimination. This case is interesting because no federal circuit court has weighed in on this issue, and it provides some insight on how biometrics and other technologies are forcing courts to reevaluate constitutional principles. 

In the case, In re White Google Pixel 3 XL Cellphone in a Black Incipio Case, D. Idaho, No. 1:19-mj-10441-DCN, the government was investigating a suspect believed to be in possession of child pornography. As part of that investigation, the government obtained a search warrant authorizing a search of the suspect's residence, computers, and electronic devices. In executing the warrant, the government seized a locked cell phone found in the suspect's residence. After the suspect admitted to being the owner of the cell phone, the government applied for an additional search warrant compelling the suspect to unlock the phone using his finger. A federal magistrate judge denied the request for the additional warrant, finding that it would compel him to give self-incriminating testimony. The decision was challenged and eventually reversed. On review, Judge Nye ruled that the search warrant would not violate the suspect's Fifth Amendment because applying a fingerprint to a sensor doesn't communicate anything or require the suspect to provide testimonial evidence. 

About the Author

Christi Schofield

Christi is an experienced attorney who represents clients in criminal and family law matters in the Treasure Valley and surrounding areas. 

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