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Why You Shouldn’t Use Your Fingerprints to Lock Your Phone

By on in Criminal Defense

iphone finger print sensor

Today, many new smart phones feature touch recognition, or “touch ID.” The feature allows a phone to record and recognize a user’s fingerprint. When the user places his or her thumb over a sensor, the phone will unlock. If the phone does not recognize the fingerprint, the phone will stay locked.

Most people who have phones with touch ID capabilities use this technology. It is fast, convenient and – admittedly – simply interesting technology. It also gives users a sense of security. They can feel assured that their phone will not be accessed by anyone else.

There are many strong arguments as to why you should not use your fingerprints to lock your phone, however. Specifically, if a police officer arrests you, the fact that your phone is locked via fingerprint could become an issue.

Here is what you should know about biometrics and searches of your private electronic communication devices. If you have any questions about how these issues may impact you, please contact our Phoenix criminal defense lawyers.

What Are Biometrics?

Biometrics – short for biological measurements – are an individual’s set of unique physical measurements. Your fingerprint is an example of a biometric.

Biometric technology is technology that uses your biometrics to accomplish a specific task such as to unlock a smart phone. Biometrics are becoming a huge part of technology today. They may also impact your constitutional rights.

You Have a Right Not to Reveal the Contents of Your Mind

The Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects individuals from having to testify against themselves or saying anything that could be used against them. This includes being forced to tell officers a password to unlock a phone that could contain information that could be used against you. In other words, if a police officer asks you to tell them your password, you have the right to refuse.

Your biometrics are not as private or protected as the contents of your mind, as an writer explains. In fact, biometric data is collected from every person that is arrested, starting with their fingerprints.

Because you expose your biometrics to the public every day, including your fingerprints, police officers may be able to ask you to press your finger onto a smart phone in order to unlock it and reveal its contents. Under some circumstances, you could be required to comply with such a request.

In fact, in Los Angeles, a federal judge recently signed a search warrant that allowed for the search of a woman’s phone. The warrant also allowed the officers to force the woman to press her finger to the iPhone and unlock it. You can read more about the story in the Los Angeles Times.

What Incriminating Evidence Could Your Phone Hold?

You might be thinking that because you are not a criminal and have nothing to hide, it does not matter whether police officers can access your phone.

Unfortunately, data on your phone that appears to be seemingly innocent to you may be used as evidence against you in court. It is impossible know what the police will find and how the prosecution will interpret it.  Police officers may also obtain warrants to search your tablet, office computer, private home computer or laptop.

You should make sure that all of your information is password-protected. You should also make sure that your private accounts, including social media and e-mail accounts, are protected by passwords.

You should know that you have a right to withhold consent to any warrantless search of any of your personal items. A police officer can search your personal items only if they have reasonable suspicion of criminal activity or probable cause to do so, or if they have obtained a warrant.

Our Phoenix Criminal Defense Attorneys Can Help You

If you are arrested and charged with a crime, you need to understand your legal rights. You also need to know your rights if you are subjected to a warrantless search.

At Mushkatel, Robbins & Becker, PLLC, our experienced Phoenix criminal defense attorneys believe in upholding the rights of those who are a part of our criminal system. We are here to advocate for you and make sure that your constitutional rights are protected. We will do everything we can to suppress any unlawfully obtained evidence, including cell phone data.

If you have been charged with a crime or believe that you will be charged in the near future, please contact us today by calling our offices or submitting our online form.