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Criminal Defense From A Former Prosecutor

New ruling seen as win for individual privacy

A California district court judge has ruled that U.S. cops can't force people to unlock their cellphones using their fingers or faces. The case in question involved an individual who was trying to extort another by threatening to play an embarrassing video on Facebook. Authorities were planning to raid a property and wanted permission to unlock any devices that used facial recognition or similar technology.

The judge in the case addressed two separate issues when making her ruling. First, she ruled that the request in itself went too far because it wasn't narrow enough. However, she also found that forcing someone to unlock a phone could be tantamount to self-incrimination. Ultimately, the judge believes these types of security measures should be given the same treatment as a passcode used to protect a phone. Previous rulings have found that passcodes are different than biometric features because they require a person to actually verbalize the code.

Therefore, it could be considered testimony that is protected by the Fifth Amendment. However, that created a paradox that was resolved by the judge's ruling. She noted that this was a case in which technology was moving faster than the law could keep up. The judge suggested that law enforcement ask Facebook for messages or other information as that would not infringe on a person's right to remain silent.

Individuals who are facing allegations of extortion or committing any other type of crimes may need the help of legal counsel. Penalties for a criminal conviction could include jail time, fines or the loss of professional licenses. Legal professionals may be able to help defendants obtain plea deals or other favorable outcomes in their cases. Leverage for a plea deal could be obtained by successfully moving to have evidence in a matter suppressed before trial.

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