Going far beyond the FBI's conduct in its recent back and forth with Apple, the Department of Justice is standing by demands that people occupying a residence during a raid by law enforcement be required to use their fingerprints to open biometrically-secured phones:
In what’s believed to be an unprecedented attempt to bypass the security of Apple iPhones, or any smartphone that uses fingerprints to unlock, California’s top cops asked to enter a residence and force anyone inside to use their biometric information to open their mobile devices.
FORBES found a court filing, dated May 9 2016, in which the Department of Justice sought to search a Lancaster, California, property. But there was a more remarkable aspect of the search, as pointed out in the memorandum: “authorization to depress the fingerprints and thumbprints of every person who is located at the SUBJECT PREMISES during the execution of the search and who is reasonably believed by law enforcement to be the user of a fingerprint sensor-enabled device that is located at the SUBJECT PREMISES and falls within the scope of the warrant.” The warrant was not available to the public, nor were other documents related to the case.
“According to the memorandum, signed off by U.S. attorney for the Central District of California Eileen Decker, the government asked for even more than just fingerprints: ‘While the government does not know ahead of time the identity of every digital device or fingerprint (or indeed, every other piece of evidence) that it will find in the search, it has demonstrated probable cause that evidence may exist at the search location, and needs the ability to gain access to those devices and maintain that access to search them. For that reason, the warrant authorizes the seizure of ‘passwords, encryption keys, and other access devices that may be necessary to access the device,’' the document read.
Legal experts were shocked at the government’s request. ‘They want the ability to get a warrant on the assumption that they will learn more after they have a warrant,' said Marina Medvin of Medvin Law. ‘Essentially, they are seeking to have the ability to convince people to comply by providing their fingerprints to law enforcement under the color of law – because of the fact that they already have a warrant. They want to leverage this warrant to induce compliance by people they decide are suspects later on. This would be an unbelievably audacious abuse of power if it were permitted.'
Jennifer Lynch, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), added: ‘It’s not enough for a government to just say we have a warrant to search this house and therefore this person should unlock their phone. The government needs to say specifically what information they expect to find on the phone, how that relates to criminal activity and I would argue they need to set up a way to access only the information that is relevant to the investigation.
‘The warrant has to be particular in how it describes the place to be searched and the thing to be seized and limited in scope. That’s why if a government suspects criminal activity to be happening on a property and there are 50 apartments in that property they have to specify which apartment and why and what they expect to find there.'”