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How You Lock Your Phone Determines If Police Can Force You to Unlock It


In America, police are using a method referred to as ‘compelled decryption’ to force you to unlock your phone or device if it is encrypted via facial recognition or fingerprint, but not if it needs a pass-code. The argument is that forcing someone to provide the code would violate their fifth amendment right of self-incrimination. This is currently a hotly debated topic in the courts and will soon be argued in front of the supreme court.

Government officials, including Attorney General William Barr, has asked Congress to pass a law mandating cell phone manufacturers provide governments with back door access to encrypted data. The tech community argues that this would be inherently insecure, due to the fact that any back door will be abused by non-government entities.

In response, methods have already become popular for disabling all bio-metric features on devices with the push of a few buttons to force law enforcement to get a pass-code instead of relying on facial recognition or a fingerprint to unlock the device.


Mana Azarmi, a lawyer with the Center for Democracy and Technology: “Right now, your data is more secure if you use one form of protection instead of another,” she says. “The common person doesn’t even always use passwords, but if you ask that common person on the street how courts view passwords versus face or fingerprints, they’d be shocked to hear the difference.”

Orin Kerr, a professor at Berkeley Law: “I suspect Supreme Court review will come in the next two to three years. The constitutional standard is unsettled, but I suspect it wont stay unsettled for long.”


For the full article, head over to MIT’s ‘Technology Review’ site here.