Feds Raid Home, Require Residents to Unlock Phones

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California police recently served a warrant that allowed them to require everyone in a residence to unlock mobile devices that were secured with a fingerprint.

On May 9, the Department of Justice requested that local law enforcement officers enter a residence in Lancaster and access all smartphones at that location.

"Authorization to depress the fingerprints and thumbprints of every person who is located at the subject premises during the execution of the search and who is reasonably believed by law enforcement to be the user of a fingerprint sensor-enabled device that is located at the subject premises and falls within the scope of the warrant," according to a memorandum signed by US Attorney for the Central District of California Eileen Decker, which was obtained by Forbes.

"While the government does not know ahead of time the identity of every digital device or fingerprint (or indeed, every other piece of evidence) that it will find in the search, it has demonstrated probable cause that evidence may exist at the search location, and needs the ability to gain access to those devices and maintain that access to search them," the memo reads. "For that reason, the warrant authorizes the seizure of passwords, encryption keys, and other access devices that may be necessary to access the device."

According to Forbes, the warrant was served; it covered phones made Apple, Samsung, Motorola, and HTC. The details of the case are unclear, but it's believed to be the first time a warrant has included such stipulations. Usually, the feds seize a smartphone but only gain access to its data if the owner opens it or law enforcement gains entry themselves by cracking the passcode.

That was the case with the iPhone 5c owned by San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook. The FBI asked Apple for access to the password-protected smartphone, but Apple declined, arguing that it would have to create a secondary mobile OS that put existing iPhone users at risk. After a very public back and forth, the FBI ultimately unlocked the iPhone with the help of a third party.

According to Forbes, the California memo cites cases as far back as 1910, and argues that it does not violate the Fourth or Fifth Amendments.

Not surprisingly, privacy advocates don't agree. "The government needs to say specifically what information they expect to find on the phone," the Electronic Frontier Foundation told Forbes.

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