Can the Police Make Me Unlock My iPhone?

There was an article on ZDNet a few days ago talking about a Virginia Circuit Court judge who ruled that authorities could compel someone to unlock their smartphone with their own finger (but not a password) if they believe there is evidence concerning the case on the phone. The whole issue comes down to self-incrimination. This particular judge didn't think pressing your finger to your phone was giving up information like being forced to provide your password would be. Just a few short years ago that would make sense, but with the advent of fingerprint scanners your finger in some cases is your password.

So what does this all mean for all of us law abiding citizens? First of all, this judgement is just a single case. Give it some time. Interpretation of new technologies with respect to laws can take some time to sort themselves out. However, even if the law ends up being that authorities can force you to unlock your phone with your finger but not a password...not all is lost. With the iPhone, you only get 3 attempts to unlock your phone with your finger (Touch ID). After 3 failed attempts you must enter your password. If you are really worried about this situation or the other really unlikely one (you know, that people lift your fingerprint off a glass and 25 steps later they have a fake finger that can unlock your phone) then there are some things to consider:

  1. Don't register all of your fingers for TouchID. Just use 1 finger.
  2. The authorities won't know for sure what finger you use. Use a wrong finger or two and now you are locked out of your phone unless you provide a password (and that goes against the 5th amendment).
  3. It's pretty easy to tilt your finger and make bad contact with the Touch ID sensor. Even if you use the 1 finger you have registered to work with TouchID there are ways to make it not work without it looking like it.
  4. Don't break the law (sorry, couldn't resist that one)

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