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Cellphones Crime Electronic Frontier Foundation Privacy Security

Feds Walk Into a Building, Demand Everyone's Fingerprints To Open Phones (dailyherald.com) 432

An anonymous Slashdot reader quotes the Daily Herald: Investigators in Lancaster, California, were granted a search warrant last May with a scope that allowed them to force anyone inside the premises at the time of search to open up their phones via fingerprint recognition, Forbes reported Sunday. The government argued that this did not violate the citizens' Fifth Amendment protection against self incrimination because no actual passcode was handed over to authorities...

"I was frankly a bit shocked," said Andrew Crocker, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, when he learned about the scope of search warrant. "As far as I know, this warrant application was unprecedented"... He also described requiring phones to be unlocked via fingerprint, which does not technically count as handing over a self-incriminating password, as a "clever end-run" around constitutional rights.

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Feds Walk Into a Building, Demand Everyone's Fingerprints To Open Phones

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 22, 2016 @10:36PM (#53132663)

    and say they need to suck it for the phone to unlock

    • I wouldn't be suprised if some men (circumsised with dry penis heads) do just that, as there are crease patterns all over it's dome
      • I wouldn't be suprised if some men (circumsised with dry penis heads) do just that, as there are crease patterns all over it's dome

        Of course they do. Then the phone camera is already in the right area for the drunken picture sent to their mom instead of their girlfriend.

  • by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Saturday October 22, 2016 @10:39PM (#53132675) Homepage Journal

    ... keep holding it down.

    Seriously, this is such an unconscionable violation of basic privacy that even people who have done nothing wrong should automatically have that reaction. And anybody who has done something wrong should know better than to use a fingerprint for unlocking anyway. What was this supposed to prove other than that they have a judge who will rubber-stamp any order no matter how appalling?

    • by drnb ( 2434720 ) on Saturday October 22, 2016 @11:06PM (#53132785)

      And anybody who has done something wrong should know better than to use a fingerprint for unlocking anyway.

      That is so severely misinformed. Prisons are full of people who made simple mistakes, who should have "known better" than to leave some particular bit of evidence.

      What was this supposed to prove other than that they have a judge who will rubber-stamp any order no matter how appalling?

      Actually its probably far more complicated than you suggest. Obtaining a fingerprint from a *suspect* is something that is well established in law. The fact that fingerprints can now be used to unlock certain information does not somehow undo the long established precedent of fingerprint collection and use. While it may be a novel interpretation of "use" its a bit hysterical to characterize it as rubber stamping. Its more a mundane example of the law not keeping up with technology and needing to be updated: that fingerprint use with respect to identification is not self incriminating, but fingerprint use with respect to unlocking is self incriminating. The current law may simply not address the difference and simply refer to use with characterizing the use. If so the failure is in the legislature not necessarily the judiciary.

      • The phone is already full of finger prints, including the one on the fingerprint reader. All you need to recover it is sticky tape or cyanoacrylate, make a rubber molding and apply it again to the sensor. Fingerprints are a schtoopidttt way to lock a phone. It is like leaving the key under the doormat.
    • by morcego ( 260031 ) on Saturday October 22, 2016 @11:46PM (#53132905)

      (...) even people who have done nothing wrong (...). And anybody who has done something wrong should (...)

      The problem is that everyone has some something wrong. There is some kind of law, statute or rule that you broke... or didn't follow strictly.
      This day and age there are so many rule, such broad law, that everyone had some something. Even if it as minor as jaywalking. Or driving over the speed limit for a couple minutes. Or parking a little too far from the sidewalk. Or something else completely different that in a given place is a misdemeanor.

      I'm not screaming "evil big government here". I'm actually a law student and an intern in a attorney office. We all break some law several times every day. But these are such minor things that the legal system simply don't care. Maybe it is not a criminal law, but only enough for a civil lawsuit. But we are still breaking the rules.

      In the eyes of the law, no one is 100% guiltless, even if they are innocent.

      This is one of the problems why the legal system doesn't work. We punish too many things, so we punish badly. And, in that scenario, when the policing forces (local, state or federal) get increased powers and broader mandates, they get carte blanche to so pretty much what they want to anyone they want. After all, everyone is guilty of something.

      Things are only getting scarier.

      • (...) even people who have done nothing wrong (...). And anybody who has done something wrong should (...)

        The problem is that everyone has some something wrong. There is some kind of law, statute or rule that you broke... or didn't follow strictly.
        This day and age there are so many rule, such broad law, that everyone had some something. Even if it as minor as jaywalking. Or driving over the speed limit for a couple minutes. Or parking a little too far from the sidewalk. Or something else completely different that in a given place is a misdemeanor.

        I'm not screaming "evil big government here". I'm actually a law student and an intern in a attorney office. We all break some law several times every day. But these are such minor things that the legal system simply don't care. Maybe it is not a criminal law, but only enough for a civil lawsuit. But we are still breaking the rules.

        In the eyes of the law, no one is 100% guiltless, even if they are innocent.

        This is one of the problems why the legal system doesn't work. We punish too many things, so we punish badly. And, in that scenario, when the policing forces (local, state or federal) get increased powers and broader mandates, they get carte blanche to so pretty much what they want to anyone they want. After all, everyone is guilty of something.

        Things are only getting scarier.

        "Give me 6 folders of porn from the most innocent of men and I shall find something in there to hang him."

        In some places it might be porn with wrinkled 60 year old women in school uniforms. In other places, porn featuring women whose breasts are too small.

    • by SirSlud ( 67381 ) on Sunday October 23, 2016 @12:30AM (#53133023) Homepage

      One thing that /. users don't get is that while that may seem obvious to you, it's not obvious to everyone. That's why the law and regulations are constantly in search of trying to balance citizens from having to be experts about everything they buy/own/need. And the time honoured thought of "oh, only idiots will not do this, and idiots are people who deserve what happens to them" plays nicely into the hands of a dysfunctional society. If you have a "just world" mentality, that things happen to people *because* they deserve it, you may not get out enough.

  • by dattaway ( 3088 ) on Saturday October 22, 2016 @10:41PM (#53132681) Homepage Journal

    Pattern required to start device before fingerprint reader will work.

    • by Z00L00K ( 682162 )

      Better to link fingerprint unlock to device wipe and only use a pin code to get into the device properly.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojo&world3,net> on Sunday October 23, 2016 @05:53AM (#53133575) Homepage Journal

      If your turn your phone off/reboot the moment the police turn up it means you can't film them with it. So you have to choose between filing and risking them grabbing it, or protecting your privacy.

      Phones need a panic button. Say tap the power button three times quickly and it goes into a locked down mode where it records video as long as you hold the volume button down, and the moment you let go it reboots and all data is safety encrypted.

      Kinda sucks that we need to use suicide bomber tactics now.

  • I think we need two things:

    (1): Some form of secure (preferably cloud-stored) backup/restore mechanism with appropriate encryption and access protection mechanisms, and

    (2): A convenient, easy to trigger yet unlikely to be accidentally triggered mechanism to locally wipe the hardware. Factory reset plus cache clear should do the trick.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Before that, you need a government that respects the citizens and the rule of law. Without that, everything else will be at risk.

    • That is literally the solution to almost all tech problems. (No sarcasm). Bad access control and [insert random] encryption problems keep people like me employed.
  • by beckett ( 27524 ) on Saturday October 22, 2016 @10:41PM (#53132687) Homepage Journal
    if the iPhone reboots, the key code must be entered as touchID does not work. Passwords are still protected by the 4th amendment in the US, right?
    • correct.
    • by stephanruby ( 542433 ) on Sunday October 23, 2016 @02:06AM (#53133195)

      This is the same for any Android phone that has fingerprint recognition.

    • by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Sunday October 23, 2016 @03:09AM (#53133307)

      It isn't 100% clear, there is no cut and dried supreme court ruling and there have been some conflicting lower court rulings but in general the opinion of the courts seems to be that you can't be forced to hand over a password/code/etc because that is something in your head, which falls under 5th amendment protections against self incrimination.

      The 4th amendment is what would be used to challenge a broad search warrant like was issued in this case. Without knowing the specifics I can't say for sure but this sounds like it would be an illegal search since it was a general warrant and that isn't allowed. The police aren't (supposed to be) able to get a warrant to just search anyone or anything in a given place, they have to be specific. This doesn't sound like it was, and so would probably be a 4th amendment violation.

  • by jenningsthecat ( 1525947 ) on Saturday October 22, 2016 @10:43PM (#53132693)

    It's been said countless times here. Requiring both a fingerprint and a passcode would have protected phone owners from this fishing expedition.

    As for the greater ramifications of the unprecedentedly broad warrant that was issued, well, I'm glad I'm not a US citizen and don't live there. And I'm increasingly reluctant to travel there as well, precisely because of things like this. America has become a scary, scary place.

    • As for the greater ramifications of the unprecedentedly broad warrant that was issued, well, I'm glad I'm not a US citizen and don't live there. And I'm increasingly reluctant to travel there as well, precisely because of things like this.

      Where do you live that you think is better?

      • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) *
        Probably somewhere that has a little less security and a little more liberty.
      • Where do you live that you think is better?

        You're kidding right? The USA has shown itself as of late to have nothing going for it. Freedoms no longer exist, due process no longer exists, it's not the best place for education, health, the division of wealth is simply staggering compared to many other countries, and the chicks in Sweden are far hotter.

      • The Underground Railroad has always run from the USA to Canada. People have been voting with their feet for centuries.
  • by jcr ( 53032 ) <[moc.cam] [ta] [rcj]> on Saturday October 22, 2016 @10:55PM (#53132741) Journal

    This is an obvious violation of the fifth amendment, and the judge who issued the warrant isn't qualified to practice law in the united states.

    -jcr

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Should be tarred and feathered at a minimum.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 22, 2016 @11:37PM (#53132877)

      "...and the judge who issued the warrant isn't qualified to practice law..."

      Note the very careful wording, both in the Warrant, (Which has yet to surface...), and the reporting about it. There is far more to this case than appears.
      -No _person_ was charged or implicated either before or after the Warrant was issued and served. The Judge has not been named.
      -The reason(s) for obtaining the Warrant has not been released.
      -One witness has come out and expressed confusion; she claims not to know why she was ordered to comply. No explanation was given to her, and she has witnesses to this.

      This seems to be a Fishing Expedition gone horribly wrong, and the Judge isn't the only one who is blameless. Somebody wanted very much to have this happen, most likely for "National Security" reasons. (Unpaid Parking Tickets seems unlikely, at least for now.) And indeed if that is the case, we may never know any more. The Law Enforcement Industry likes to keep mum on their screwups.

      Too much attention is being paid to the How, and not enough people are asking Why?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by rahvin112 ( 446269 )

        I doubt it's national security, it's most likely a drug case. Other crimes just don't pay the cops as well as drug crimes. This won't change until civil forfeiture goes away.

    • by tgv ( 254536 )

      This is what you can expect in a country where money is considered free speech.

    • This is an obvious violation of the fifth amendment

      If it's so obvious I'm keen to hear your analysis of why. After all there are several here who say that it's not a violation of the fifth at all, and a least one post shows it's more likely a violation of the fourth.

  • how about 4A (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ooloorie ( 4394035 )

    The government argued that this did not violate the citizens' Fifth Amendment protection against self incrimination

    It seems to violate the 4A, the one protecting citizens against "unreasonable search and seizure".

    Of course, both Bush and Obama pretty much have done away with such niceties. Hillary will continue their "noble" efforts, and kill off the 1A and 2A as well.

    • "I have a signed warrant to search your house for drugs/guns/cash, please open your fingerprint-protected safe"

      Which part of that violates the Constitution?
      • 4th and 5th . just say no
      • Re:how about 4A (Score:5, Insightful)

        by mysidia ( 191772 ) on Saturday October 22, 2016 @11:47PM (#53132907)

        That's not what they did.

        It's more like you had a party at your house with 50 people, and the police got a warrant to search your house,
        that included a clause "allowing" them to search the fingerprint-protected safe of any person who was at your party

        scope that allowed them to force anyone inside the premises at the time ....

        Contrast that against the Fourth amendment's requirements:

        supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

        Note that the constitution requires that warrants describe particular people or things.

        It's Unconstitutional and Illegal/violation of the supreme law of the land to have a "generic search" or a "generic warrant document"
        allowing police to search and seize or disseminate the personal property of ANY random person they happen to find at place X.

        The constitution requires they have made a specific list of people to search people, or a specific list of things to search objects not in peoples' personal affects.

        • Exactly. Unless you have my name on your warrant and have a reasonable suspicion backing that warrant, you can do a cursory safety check and then go fuck yourself. I'm not doing anything wrong and I live in a country where I don't have to prove that. And for what it's worth, every police officer I've counted as a friend hates this kind of fascist crap.

        • by Calydor ( 739835 )

          I'm a little curious, how does the fourth amendment work together with Stop And Frisk practices?

          Is it feasible that the police could get a warrant to search a building, and then claim that anyone found in the building is 'suspicious' and they checked them out 'just in case'?

        • by Kjella ( 173770 )

          supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

          You are reading way too much into this. If the police get a warrant to search a particular house for drugs that is a specific warrant. If it were all houses or to search for any contraband that would be a general warrant and unconstitutional. When they exercise that warrant they're going to search the whole house with everyone's belongings, they don't have to go through the coat rack and assign ownership first then come back with one warrant for Alice's jacket, one for Bob's jacket and not search Eve's jack

        • Re:how about 4A (Score:4, Interesting)

          by rahvin112 ( 446269 ) on Sunday October 23, 2016 @06:32AM (#53133627)

          They couldn't force you with out the lead pipes and rubber hoses, fortunately those aren't allowed in the US yet. What you do in a situation like this is refuse to comply, force them to arrest you and spend the night in jail so you can call the ACLU and get the warrant tossed.

          See they get away with it because no one refused to comply. Once everyone in the building complies there is no effective way to sue them and set a precedent that will stop this happening again. When they arrest you they move the warrant to the next stage and you now have grounds to sue them over the warrant that you don't have if you comply.

          Sometimes standing up to illegal orders is hard, including being arrested hard. Know your rights and refuse illegal orders like this (yes I recognize the warrant was technically legal because it hadn't been challenged). Then use the arrest to go after them and make sure it never happens again.

          • Re:how about 4A (Score:4, Interesting)

            by mrchaotica ( 681592 ) * on Sunday October 23, 2016 @08:01AM (#53133835)

            force them to arrest you

            So, effectively ruin your life? By doing that, you not only get into databases that you might have had some chance avoiding otherwise, you also fuck over your chances of ever having a decent job again (unless you happen to be in a career such as activist or journalist where getting arrested is respected instead of condemned). HR departments are too stupid and lazy to know or care about the difference between getting arrested because you're a criminal and getting arrested because the police are criminals.

            In the totalitarian police state of America, it's injustices all the way down.

      • by Z00L00K ( 682162 )

        A: "Sorry, it's not my safe - I only house it for a friend."
        Cop: "Who's your friend"
        A: "I'd take the 5th on that".

      • They went in and searched everyone's phones. Unless there's an important detail we aren't being told here, that's unconstitutional. The 4th amendment says "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

        The important part ther

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 22, 2016 @11:23PM (#53132839)

    That is the very definition of a "general search warrant".

    General search warrants are the very reason the Fourth Amendment was written. They are categorically banned in the Constitution.

    The judge must be a Redcoat.

  • by RubberDogBone ( 851604 ) on Saturday October 22, 2016 @11:31PM (#53132855)

    Fingerprints are an inherently insecure way to 'secure' a device of any kind because there are techniques to obtain latent fingerprints, which we all leave everywhere anyway, and use them to make a replica fingerprint which will open devices, security doors, phones, whatever, which is supposedly secured by said prints.

    If you secure anything with fingerprints as your sole method of security, you have accepted having no security. It's a really bad way to secure anything unless you just don't care.

    A normal search warrant already gives the police the right to obtain those latent prints and, hell, make you submit to fingerprinting on the old ink pad or the new electronic scanners. The same warrant also gives them the right to seize the devices that they wish to open.

    Apparently the cops think they don't have the right to go through the steps to make a replica print and get the device to open. They are manufacturing something rather than just looking at the evidence. Personally I don't see a hill of difference here between that need and a police raid that seizes a padlocked box for which the police are unable to find a key. They would get a locksmith to open it, or more likely, cut the lock. So you have a locked phone. Make a replica print. Done.

    This fingerprint warrant just sounds like they didn't want to spend time on doing it the hard way. Or they were after something else.

    • you're right, but in this case, it's my opinion the local cops are a bunch of stooges. they have no clue. the local prosecutor, same.
      It doesn't help when the reason local law enforcement can't deal with it because they're stupid.

      caveat. I know a lot of talented people in the law enforcement side, whom I respect immensely. this is a bad apple problem.
    • by Z00L00K ( 682162 )

      There's even a Mythbusters episode on that.

    • Or they were after something else.

      Bingo!

      This totally illegal general warrant/search is just too far beyond the pale and smells like a panic move by someone in local LE and/or a local politician/bureaucrat who thinks they may have been caught doing something or being somewhere they shouldn't, but the only clue they had to the identity of the person with the possible evidence was seeing the person walk into this building they searched. Now, if this anonymous 'building' was a news/media outlet, it gets even juicier.

      Strat

    • Fingerprints are an inherently insecure way to 'secure' a device of any kind because there are techniques to obtain latent fingerprints, which we all leave everywhere anyway,

      If someone wants to get into my device so much that they are willing to find, scan and make replica fingerprints then at this point passwords are even less secure [xkcd.com].

  • by mysidia ( 191772 ) on Saturday October 22, 2016 @11:36PM (#53132871)

    Unreasonable search and seizure

    A search warrant for building contents is fine.

    Searching the personal affects of every person just because they happened to be present is not reasonable.

    The constitution requires a specific warrant. Searching someone's person constitutionally requires that person be named in the Warrant.

    Merely being present at a place of work or being at a restaurant or other public place is not probable cause for a search of someone's person.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I think a quote from Benjamin Franklin applies: "Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one."

  • When first turned on, my Samsung phone won't unlock by fingerprint, it requires a passcode. Just turn your phone off upon seeing the warrant! Seems strange that they can compel a fingerprint but not a password.
    • It's probably the difference between something you have, and something you know. The first is covered by the search warrant (the right to search and look at everything - including the fingerprint), the second not (you're not required to give information, e.g. on where to find things - and the password).

  • by Locke2005 ( 849178 ) on Saturday October 22, 2016 @11:57PM (#53132949)
    You have 10 different fingers you can use to fingerprint-lock your phone. Most phones lock up after 5 tries. Can they compel you to use the correct finger? How many times can they force you to try and fail before it is effectively unlawful detention?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Probably just one before it's okay for them to arrest you. One of those situations where "wrong finger" more than once will be taken as resisting arrest.

      Why resisting arrest?

      Because it's what they're about to scream you're doing once you're unconscious

    • I want a "panic" finger such that it displays a "could not read fingerprint - try again" message and then immediate sets "allow_unlocking_with_fingerprint=False" internally so that a password is required. Make it indistinguishable from the usual unlock failure message so that it's impossible to tell that it was triggered (even by examining the on-device logs, if that's possible).
  • by no-body ( 127863 ) on Sunday October 23, 2016 @12:18AM (#53132993)

    and full of themselves to pull this off...

  • "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
    The color of law seems to device power on requested at a boarder crossing or internal boarder checkpoint to affirm citizenship.
    The really bad news is in the network information
  • by tlambert ( 566799 ) on Sunday October 23, 2016 @01:50AM (#53133173)

    In a premises search, they can compel an unlock of phones by fingerprint, assuming you lock your phone that way.

    The specific legal decision was the 1988 John DOE, Petitioner v. UNITED STATES. 487 U.S. 201 (108 S.Ct. 2341, 101 L.Ed.2d 184) decision.

    It came down to whether on not an affirmative action was required on the part of someone, or if it was a non-affirmative action. Use of a key on a safe or lockbox is not affirmative. Being forced to enter the combination is not affirmative; it's tantamount to compelled testimony.

    Here's the part of the decision of interest:

    A defendant can be compelled to produce material evidence that is incriminating. Fingerprints, blood samples, voice exemplars, handwriting specimens, or other items of physical evidence may be extracted from a defendant against his will. But can he be compelled to use his mind to assist the prosecution in convicting him of a crime? I think not. He may in some cases be forced to surrender a key to a strongbox containing incriminating documents, but I do not believe he can be compelled to reveal the combination to his wall safe —- by word or deed.

    Moral of this story: use a pin code, rather than using the fingerprint unlock. It may be a cool feature, but it offers you no legal protection.

  • But what if you do not use the fingerprint locking features?

  • Fingerprints are something you own not something you know. It's much easier for the police to take things from you than to extract knowledge from you.

    It's a bit weird to get through all that hassle as your fingerprints are probably on the phone itself. (or on a nearby object)

  • There are clauses written into the recent, secretly-drafted international trade agreements (like TTIP and CETA) which allow a commercial company to sue the government of any signed-up nation, if that government acts in a way that harms the profits of the company. Yes, this is totally retarded, but then that's what you get when you allow companies to write laws.

    Just wondering, however, if any legislation like this already exists in the United States? Companies like Apple might be able to use it against an
  • by reboot246 ( 623534 ) on Sunday October 23, 2016 @06:44AM (#53133651) Homepage
    The one thing the Founders wanted to guard against was general warrants. This warrant gets pretty close to being one. It was limited to a specific building, but next time it could be limited to a specific block, or even a specific city or county. I think they're building precedent for doing such things. If they get away with this one, then what's to stop them from going further?
  • by Yosho ( 135835 ) on Sunday October 23, 2016 @01:53PM (#53135181)

    I see a lot of people here who are repeating the "why would you use fingerprints for authentication when your fingerprints can just be lifted off of any nearby surface?!" line, which is ignorant of how fingerprint scanners in modern cell phones actually work. Read up on it a bit: http://www.androidauthority.com/how-fingerprint-scanners-work-670934/ [androidauthority.com]

    The short version is that no, the police will not be able to fool your phone's fingerprint scanner by using a print collected off of something else you've touched. Modern scanners do not record visual images of your fingerprint and match against that; they measure either changes in capacitance associated with the ridges of your finger touching the phone or your finger's response to an ultrasonic pulse. Both forms are incredible hard to fool with a prosthetic (and probably won't even work if your finger has been severed, although I don't know if anybody's tested that).

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