Los Angeles resident ordered to use Touch ID to unlock iPhone for FBI

Touch ID sensors on multiple iPhones
Touch ID sensors on multiple iPhones (Image credit: iMore)

A federal court has issued a search warrant compelling a Los Angeles resident to unlock her iPhone using Touch ID so that the FBI can gather evidence from it. While courts have issued similar orders before, this is the first time it has happened in a federal case, and a rare example of such a warrant being issued.

From the Los Angeles Times:

There, authorities obtained a search warrant compelling the girlfriend of an alleged Armenian gang member to press her finger against an iPhone that had been seized from a Glendale home. The phone contained Apple's fingerprint identification system for unlocking, and prosecutors wanted access to the data inside it.

The U.S. Supreme Court has previously held that a warrant may compel someone to unlock their phone with their fingerprint, as a fingerprint is thought to be physical evidence, which a person in custody may be required to provide. However, one case held that a password cannot be compelled because disclosing it could be tantamount to testifying against oneself, a possible violation of the 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Some groups have also argued that compelling someone to unlock a phone with their fingerprint is also a 5th Amendment violation, but debate still continues on the merits of that particular argument.

Joseph Keller is the former Editor in Chief of iMore. An Apple user for almost 20 years, he spends his time learning the ins and outs of iOS and macOS, always finding ways of getting the most out of his iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Mac.

17 Comments
  • She should try to grab the phone and quick dash away long enough to turn it off etc. [Edit: that was really weird--I first used a different word for "grab" that starts with "sna..." and ends with "tch" and it was censored! That computer is pretty prudish!]
  • It's the draconian level of censorship they employ at iMore.com now. It's pretty silly and more degrading than the "swears" they are trying to keep from view. Any word that could even remotely be used as an insult is now censored even if it's just a regular word that has a million other uses and isn't even a swear word at all like "*****".
  • If it is a violation to unlock woth touch id, just make him unlock the phone with his password... So much fuss over nothing! Sent from the iMore App
  • They can't force you to unlock your phone if it's locked with a passcode but can if its locked with Touch ID, the law looks at Touch ID no different then using a key but to demand you to unlock when their is a passcode enabled they can't ask you for that hence why people are saying just power your phone off cause it requires the passcode after every reboot.
  • But why is she told to do this?? What did she do?? Posted via the iMore App
  • So in order to search an iPhone a warrant is needed? Just asking so I know in case an officer ever asks to see my phone. Sent from the iMore App
  • 4th Amendment.
  • Can you say, No More Rights?!
  • The easiest way out of this is just to keep your hands in your pockets while in custody. Touch ID fails 100% of the time if your fingers are sweaty. If it were me I would make sure my hands were hot and sweaty, Touch ID will then reliably fail, and the cops cannot force you to enter the passcode when it does (at least not legally).
  • No...the easiest way is to never get yourself in a situation like this. Sent from the iMore App
  • Sometimes these situations aren't always avoidable. Bad things happen to everyone in life, whether they meant it or not
  • I'm sure the judge will understand. *eye roll*
  • Do no date alleged American gang members? Could they simply turn the phone off, then use the million dollar hack to get past the passcode? Sent from the iMore App
  • basically it's a search warrant...If the police obtain a search warrant for your house they can break the door down so this is no different just they are forcing them to put their finger out. But it does show how the police agencies have hit a brick wall with snooping and getting into our information without our knowledge. I applaud companies that use high end encryption for there consumer products. Myself having multiple degrees in IT, I know the risk of our digital foot print and the reason why I encrypt everything. Even my home network is encrypted be it wired or wireless no one comes into my footprint without my knowledge.
  • This is not "incident to arrest," but a warrant based on probable cause. One can resist a warrant but the issuing judge can put you in jail for failing to comply. In the face of a warrant, the locking mechanism is irrelevant. The idea that one can assert one's right against self incrimination to refuse to comply with a lawful warrant is silly. One cannot be compelled to make a record, but having made it, one may not hide it from a court. Sent from the iMore App
  • Just use a finger not associated with Touch ID. After so many failed attempts it will require a password instead! Sent from the iMore App
  • Then, type wrong pass codes until the device locked.