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US Judge: Police Can't Force Biometric Authentication

Law enforcement cannot order individuals to unlock devices using facial or fingerprint scans, a California judge says.

American law enforcement cannot force people to unlock devices using a facial or fingerprint scan, as stated in a new ruling intended to protect individuals from intrusive federal searches.

US judges had previously given authorities power to force people to unlock devices using biometric scans, even though they couldn't force them to share passcodes. A new ruling, which says all passcodes are equal, has been called a "potentially landmark" verdict, Forbes reports.

It comes from the US District Court for the Northern District of California, where a search warrant for an Oakland property was rejected. As part of a Facebook extortion crime investigation, police wanted to access phones on the property with biometric scans. Magistrate judge Kandis Westmore ruled this was "overbroad" as it didn't specify a person or device.

Even with a warrant, the judge said, government officials could not force people to incriminate themselves by using facial, fingerprint, or iris scans to unlock mobile devices. Passcodes and biometric scans can all be used to log into devices and should be treated the same. If someone cannot be forced to provide a passcode, they also cannot be forced into biometric scans.

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