A federal court in Illinois has ruled that police cannot enter a building and force every individual inside to unlock their phones, unless the phones' owners are already identified in a search warrant.
As part of a child pornography investigation, a search warrant was requested that would allow federal agents to force anyone in a building with a fingerprint-unlockable phone like an iPhone to unlock their phone. Judge M. David Weisman denied the request, pointing out that it did not specifically name individuals who might be searched.
"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," Weisman noted. "Based on the facts presented in the application, the Court does not believe such Fourth Amendment intrusions are justified based on the facts articulated."
Weisman also noted that being forced to unlock one's phone could also be a violation of the Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination. “With a touch of a finger, a suspect is testifying that he or she has accessed the phone before, at a minimum, to setup the fingerprint password capabilities, and that he or she currently has some level of control over or relatively significant connection to the phone and its contents.”
“I am in 100 per cent agreement with this judge and applaud him for his Constitutionally-conscious interpretation of the law,” said attorney Marina Medvin. “His resistance to declaring open-season on searches is absolutely correct. I hope that he sets an example and precedent for other judges to follow.”