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Security & privacy

Is government “forced fingerprinting” legal, or a violation of privacy rights?

You use encryption every day to protect your digital devices. You lock up troves of your personal and financial information on your smartphones behind a password or fingerprint, probably without even thinking about it. Even if criminals get in, the data is encrypted or scrambled so they can understand what they see.

That’s smart and it gives you a sense of security. Your private information is secure and criminals can’t fish around your smartphone and drain your bank account.

Still, there’s a flip side to your security that’s raging on in courtrooms around the country. You may remember back in December 2015 when terrorists in San Bernardino killed 14 people at a Christmas party and injured others. That husband-wife duo were killed, with potentially important information about who funded their mission locked behind an encrypted iPhone.

Should law enforcement and the government have access to that information? If so, should they also have access to your iPhone?

A federal judge in Chicago just sided with your privacy and delivered a blow to law enforcement. He said that forcing people, whether criminals or not, to unlock their phones with their fingerprints violates their rights.

While some people argue that it’s comparable to forcing a criminal to record their fingerprints, others like the judge say it’s a violation of Constitutional rights.

Specifically, the Fourth Amendment protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures of property. The Fifth Amendment protects us from incriminating ourselves.

In this case, the federal government had requested access to a building where they wanted every fingerprint-recognition device to be unlocked.

Judge M. David Weisman denied that request. In his decision, he wrote in part: “This Court agrees that the context in which fingerprints are taken, and not the fingerprints themselves, can raise concerns under the Fourth Amendment.”

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. Based on the facts presented in the application, the Court does not believe such Fourth Amendment intrusions are justified based on the facts articulated.”

This is just one of the ways technology has caused us to reexamine laws and policies. Listen to this free Komando On Demand Podcast and discover how cyber crime has impacted our view of national security.

Cyber War: How the U.S. is under attack right now

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