Judge Rules Cops can Force You to Touch ID Unlock your iPhone

A four-digit lock code on your iPhone offers you more privacy protection than Touch ID in Virginia. Judge Steven Frucci ruled fingerprints as security codes constitute evidence police can collect, just like DNA samples, and aren't subject to Fifth Amendment self incrimination protection.

Virginia Judge rules Touch ID doesn't fall under Fifth Amendment self incrimination protectionVirginia Judge rules Touch ID doesn't fall under Fifth Amendment self incrimination protection

The ruling comes as part of a case against a Virginia man accused of attempting to strangle his girlfriend, according to The Virginian-Pilot. Police thought video evidence of the assault was on the suspect's smartphone, but his attorney argued that since the phone was protected with a fingerprint as a passcode that the device would be off limits.

Judge Frucci disagreed and said that since the suspect's fingerprint is a physical object and not something stashed away in his memory, that it fell under the same evidence collection rules as actual fingerprints, blood samples, and objects like physical keys.

The big question is whether or not there's a difference in collecting a suspect's fingerprints and compelling them to unlock a fingerprint-protected device. Judge Frucci thinks there isn't, although he sees forcing someone to divulge a passcode as a clear violation of their Fifth Amendment rights.

The ruling doesn't mean police throughout the United States can demand anyone with a Touch ID-protected iPhone — or any fingerprint-encrypted device — to unlock it and show them files and other data. It does, however, set a precedent other jurisdictions will likely turn to if they have to deal with similar situations.

Since the police don't know how if the suspect used a fingerprint or passcode to lock his smartphone, there's a chance they could appeal the Judge's ruling in hopes of getting the scope expanded to include codes. If so, that could start a process that ultimately leads to the U.S. Supreme Court.

For now, it looks like anyone with a Touch ID-capable iPhone, or any other device that uses fingerprints for security, should consider passcodes instead if they want to keep law enforcement from looking through the contents of the smartphone, tablet, or computer.