A judge ordered a suspect for the first time in a federal case to use the Touch ID function on her iPhone and unlock the device using her fingerprint.
According to PCMag, in recent months, the number of court cases involving a locked iPhone was growing. The latest case has raised the legal question of whether pressing a finger on a device is self-incriminating.
The Los Angeles Times reports that just 45 minutes after her arrest, a federal court signed a warrant giving FBI the mandate to compel a suspect to unlock her iPhone.
Authorities obtained the search warrant in an identity theft case involving the girlfriend of an alleged Armenian gang member. She was ordered to press her finger against an iPhone seized by FBI from a Glendale home.
According to 9To5Mac, the warrant is consistent with a case dating from 2014. Back at the time, a Virginia District Court ruled that fingerprints are not protected by the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in the same way passcodes are. However, legal experts have differing views on the matter.
The law currently sees fingerprints as "real or physical evidence." This means that law enforcement agencies have a right to check them without the need of a warrant. But according to some law scholars, this view is now outdated.
For instance, the director of privacy at Stanford Law School's Center for Internet and Society, Albert Gidari, explained that the action to use one's fingerprint on a Touch ID to unlock an iPhone does not violate the Fifth Amendment prohibition of self-incrimination.
Engadget reports that in the Glendale case, the suspect pleaded no contest to a felony count of identity theft. In order to check her iPhone, the FBI asked for the fingerprint of the suspect.
The case involves a 29-year-old woman from L.A., Paytsar Bkhchadzhyan. The woman already has a string of criminal convictions.
In this particular case, the argument was set by a federal court. However, it is very likely that some future cases will make it to the Supreme Court.