For the first time, a judge in California has ruled that it is illegal for police to force citizens to unlock their phones with their face or finger. This is being hailed as a win for privacy advocates, but it also raises new questions about the rights police have when they interact with the public.
This is truly a landmark decision because it is the first time that a judge has acknowledged the fact that citizens should not be forced into using their biometric data to give police access to their phones.
This ruling came from a district court judge in California in a case where police searched a property as part of an investigation in an extortion case, and they then wanted to force the residents to use facial recognition to unlock their phones. The judge ruled that even though police had a warrant to search the property, the warrant did not apply to the locked phones. And forcing the individuals to unlock their own phones would have qualified as forced self-incrimination, which is protected by the Fifth Amendment.
In the past, judges have ruled that police cannot force citizens to hand over the code to unlock their phones, but this is the first time a judge has explicitly ruled in favor of protecting biometric data.
In one case, a man in Florida was shot and killed by police last year after he was pulled over because the tint on his windows was too dark. Police seized his phone as evidence after he was killed, but it had a passcode on it. So a team of officers went to the funeral home and demanded to see the man’s body so that they could use his dead finger to unlock his phone before he was laid to rest. The family was not notified about any of this until after it already happened.
On the subject of privacy and facial recognition… there have been some concerns recently about a new trend on Facebook that involves users comparing photos of themselves now to photos of themselves from a decade ago.
You may have seen the new “10 Years Challenge” on Facebook, which has a lot of users posting photos of themselves from 10 years ago and then comparing those photos to what they look like now. But this has led to a lot of talk about how these photos are actually helping to strengthen Facebook’s facial recognition system.
As you may notice, anytime you post a photo on Facebook, it is quick to match the faces in your photo to the profiles of your friends who are in the photo—and it is usually pretty accurate. But more than 2 billion users on Facebook, there is concern about what exactly the social media giant is doing with all of that data. And given Facebook’s track record of failing to protect and even profiting from its users’ personal information, there is concern that all of that data could eventually be used against its users.