force the defendant to unlock the smartphone

Jan

30

2019

Judge: force the defendant to unlock the smartphone with fingerprint

Dutch police authorities are allowed, after permission from a Public Prosecutor, to force a suspect to unlock a smartphone with a fingerprint, according to a judge in a criminal case. It is a lower judge, so the ruling may not have many consequences.

The judge of the Noord-Holland District Court argues that forcing the finger on the fingerprint scanner of a smartphone has little to do with physical integrity. “It concerns biometric material which exists independently of the will of the defendant and which could be obtained without his cooperation.”

This is different when entering a PIN code, because that is something someone knows; suspects therefore do not have to give it. The judge ruled in a case in which the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee wanted to search the Samsung Galaxy S8 of a suspected drug smuggler. The judge finds this a crime that is heavy enough to search a smartphone to gather evidence.

It is not the only lawsuit where a judge has to deal with this question. Four suspects were contacted this week in the court of The Hague and the Public Prosecutor asked for a statement of principle on this matter. Opinions about the forced unlocking of smartphones differ, reports De Volkskrant . It concerns matters at lower courts. In case law, judgments of higher judges are used as a guideline for subsequent rulings. The courts of justice and the Supreme Court have not yet considered this issue.

Android Pie: lockdown mode Many smartphones enable biometric authentication via face recognition or fingerprint to be disabled. This can be done, for example, by switching off the telephone. With iPhone 7 and earlier this can also be done by pressing the Power button five times; with iPhone 8, X and later, this is done by pressing Power and a Volume button simultaneously.

Android Pie has an option to deactivate biometric authentication when the Power button is pressed for a long time. Other Android phones often do not have that option by default, although apps like Tasker can force that with a shortcut. The issue is important for police and justice, because many smartphones are encrypted and encryption is difficult to crack.

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