In the investigation of the girlfriend of an Armenian gang member in California, a new problem faced police in getting information from her: they could not unlock her iPhone with the fingerprinting sensor. A judge in the county signed off that the investigators could force the suspect to press her fingerprint to the phone, in hopes they would be able to access vital information from her device. However, the coercive tactics did not work, even after the suspect used all ten fingerprints, and she claimed the phone was not hers after the officers asked for a passcode.
This case, combined with another similar situation in Virginia, raises the question of whether or not law enforcement should be able to unlock devices with suspects’ fingerprints. While giving up a password is not allowed because it forces the accused person to forcibly speak against him or herself, obtaining a fingerprint for a phone is considered to be as acceptable as giving up a photo or height measurement. It may be a complex ethical issue for judges to consider in the near future, as giving up one’s fingerprint is essentially a testimony that they own the data on the device.