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“The Government may not compel or otherwise utilize fingers, thumbs, facial recognition, optical/iris, or any other biometric feature to unlock electronic devices,” Magistrate Judge Kandis A. Westmore wrote in an opinion for the U.S. District Court for Northern California.

An attempt by law enforcement authorities in Oakland, California, to force two suspected extortionists to unlock their mobile phones with biometrics violated Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination, Westmore found.

Passcodes used to unlock devices already are protected by the Fifth Amendment, which prevents the government from forcing people to testify against themselves, she explained.

“Biometric features serve the same purpose of a passcode, which is to secure the owner’s content, pragmatically rendering them functionally equivalent,” Westmore wrote. “It follows, however, that if a person cannot be compelled to provide a passcode because it is a testimonial communication, a person cannot be compelled to provide one’s finger, thumb, iris, face, or other biometric feature to unlock that same device.”


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