Jeffrey E. Johnston

Ruling could point to greater protection for mobile phones

For many in Georgia, tips on technological security can be important to protect personal privacy. National news stories about the breaches of data linked to large tech companies or the expansive reach of law enforcement databases may make many concerned about the amount of information they carry on their cell phones or other mobile devices. This is one reason why many experts advise people to rely on passcodes or phrases to unlock their mobile phones rather than many of the newer biometric options like fingerprint recognition, iris unlocking or facial identification software.

Courts have ruled on several occasions that the police cannot compel suspects to turn over their telephone passcodes or passwords, citing constitutional protections against forced self-incrimination. On the other hand, police have been allowed to use fingerprints, facial recognition and other biometric options to unlock a suspect's cell phone without his or her consent. However, one federal judge in the Northern District of California put forth a ruling that could change the law moving forward. In the ruling, the judge noted that the law must keep up with technology and that it makes little sense to protect passcodes but not biometric data.

While handing over a passcode has been considered forced testimony, the use of biometric material has been considered "non-testimonial," thus lacking protection. In a case involving a search warrant at the home of a person suspected to be involved in online extortion, the judge rejected an application to use biometrics to unlock mobile phones found in the home.

Many people may be unaware of their rights when they come in contact with the police and may put themselves at risk as a result. A criminal defense lawyer can help people suspected in a crime or facing police questioning to protect their rights, challenge police narratives and present a strong defense.

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