Mass Fingerprint Case Possibly Violating 4th Amendment

Earlier this year, there's been a lot of talk about the US government possibly breaking the Fourth Amendment which gives citizens the right to "be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." The controversy was caused by gagging orders which were issued to Microsoft and forced the company to give the government access to user data in secrecy. More specifically, the tech giant claimed that it had to comply with over 1,700 suppression orders with no expiration date in just 18 months and sued the US government over this. In other words, Redmond had an issue with the fact that it's forced to grant federal agencies access to user data and isn't allowed to notify users of that.

Earlier today, another similar case came to light. One court filing made by the US Department of Justice in May has just been leaked online and reveals some troublesome facts about certain police practices. A redacted version of the document which can be accessed by following the source link below mentions a house search warrant issued in California which the government believes gives it the right to force residents of the said house to unlock their phones with their fingerprints. The filing states that the police wasn't aware of specific phones which will be at the premises covered by the warrant but nonetheless claims that officers had "probable cause" to believe that these phones contain evidence related to their investigation.

Defense lawyer Marina Medvin describes this as an "audacious abuse of power" which is in clear violation of the Fourth Amendment, Forbes reports. The main issue here is that the government is trying to set a precedent for a warrant that basically promises to deliver probable cause after it's already issued. It's worth noting that the leaked filing is only a request and while Forbes managed to confirm that the warrant was served, there's currently no evidence that the police forced people found at the location to unlock their phones using their fingerprints. In fact, that's actually less likely given how there's already a judicial precedent which would prevent such actions. Back in 2014, the Virginia Circuit Court ruled that a general search warrant cannot be used to force people to unlock their passcode-locked phones so the same principle should also apply to fingerprint-locked devices.

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Dominik Bosnjak

Head Editor
Dominik started at AndroidHeadlines in 2016 and is the Head Editor of the site today. He’s approaching his first full decade in the media industry, with his background being primarily in technology, gaming, and entertainment. These days, his focus is more on the political side of the tech game, as well as data privacy issues, with him looking at both of those through the prism of Android. Contact him at [email protected]