Before biometric security features were used for our smartphones, most phones relied on security features like a passcode, or in the case of Android, a pattern unlock feature. It also presented certain legal conundrums as to whether or not suspects could be forced by the police to unlock their devices (no, they can’t).

However what about biometric security like Apple’s Face ID or Touch ID systems? As it turns out, those are protected the same way as passcodes are. This is according to a ruling by Judge Kanis Westmore in which the request put forth by police was denied, setting a legal precedent for future similar requests.

According to the ruling, this is because the request “runs afoul of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments”. The police had initially submitted a request to compel individuals from a blackmail case to unlock their devices using biometrics such as fingerprint, facial recognition, and/or iris recognition.

Westmore wrote, “If a person cannot be compelled to provide a passcode because it is testimonial communication, a person cannot be compelled to provide one’s finger, thumb, iris, face, or other biometric feature to unlock that same device. The undersigned finds that a biometric feature is analogous to the 20 nonverbal, physiological responses elicited during a polygraph test, which are used to determine guilt or innocence, and are considered testimonial.”

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