Authorities Use Thumbprint In Addition To Search Warrant |

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It’s one thing if there’s a warrant, it’s another if authorities also have the paperwork to use biometric information to unlock smartphones.

That’s what happened in Lancaster, California, in May of this year. And, it’s something that has never happened before, and legal defense experts are already sounding off.

According to Forbes, the Department of Justice filed documents to enter and search a residence, and then also force those inside to open their mobile devices using their thumbprint.

Documents dated May 9 of this year, include “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.”

Important to note, the itself warrant is not publicly available, and neither are other related documents.

Signed by U.S. attorney for the Central District of California Eileen Decker, the document didn’t stope there with just fingerprints, as there was probable cause to seize passwords, encryption keys and other devices:

“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.

Question is, does this set a precedent? Is this an example of how the three — warrants, technology and authorities — will clash or meld?

“Technology is giving us more and better security options, but correspondingly, security vulnerabilities are becoming more difficult to identify, predict and overcome,” says Paul Saputo, principal Texas criminal defense attorney at the Saputo Law Firm.

Saputo says actions like this will cause erosion of biometric protection.

“Devices secured by only biometric mechanisms have a gaping security hole — the immutable characteristics of the user. Devices should never be biometric-only secured if privacy is a serious concern for the user,” says Saputo. “It is simply too easy for the government and other bad actors to break this security protocol if they have physical control of your body, control which courts seem apt to rubber stamp.”

He adds that much of the time, the general public is kept in the dark about the methods and depth of data collection from both the public and private sector.

The DoJ declined to comment. Meanwhile, FORBES spoke with a resident at the property in the documents, but did not provide any further details except that no one living there had ever been accused of any relation to any crime.

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