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unlock iPhones

Federal Court: Cops Can't Unlock iPhones Unconditionally

The World Around You
February 23, 2017

The Feds can’t unlock iPhones in a building in one broad sweep, a court has ruled.

A federal court in Illinois has ruled that law enforcement can’t seek mass fingerprint unlocking warrants for smart devices. Instead, the government needs to be more specific about the devices and data they request, according to Forbes.

"The government's request is contrary to the 4th Amendment's requirement of particularity, which requires that the government describe and know the 'particular persons' and the 'particular things' prior to the search." - Judge M. David Weisman

In what’s being described as a “landmark decision,” the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, has ruled against the government in a child pornography case. Law Enforcement had requested a search warrant that would have allowed police to walk into a building and unlock all phones inside.

The court said there were privacy implications “for this particular method of using fingerprints of unnamed individuals within a property to force unlock smartphones, in particular Apple devices.”

In the decision,  Judge M. David Weisman writes:

This Court agrees that the context in which fingerprints are taken, and not the fingerprints themselves, can raise concerns under the Fourth Amendment. In the instant case, the government is seeking the authority to seize any individual at the subject premises and force the application of their fingerprints as directed by government agents. Based on the facts presented in the application, the Court does not believe such Fourth Amendment intrusions are justified based on the facts articulated.

The court’s decision, which we’re including here, was first uncovered by Stanford cryptography fellow Riana Pfefferkorn:

Forbes notes this is the first known case where law enforcement has been prevented from carrying out such broad searches of smart devices.

Sounds like the right decision, no? Leave your comments below.