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Authorities can’t force people to unlock technology with biometric features, US judge rules

A judge in California ruled Thursday that U.S. authorities cannot force people to unlock technology via fingerprint or facial recognition, even with a search warrant.

Magistrate Judge Kandis Westmore, of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, made the ruling as investigators tried to access someone’s property in Oakland.

Two people allegedly used Facebook messenger to threaten a victim with the release of an “embarrassing video” if they didn’t hand over money. Authorities investigating the case requested a search and seizure warrant “to seize various items” believed to be at a home connected to the suspects.

The ruling, which was published online and first reported by Forbes, also sought the authority to “compel” suspects into using their fingers or “other biometric features” to unlock their personal devices — which U.S. judges previously ruled was allowed.

The judge in her ruling stated the request was “overbroad” because it was “neither limited to a particular person nor a particular device.” The request could be resubmitted if authorities specify particular people whose devices they’d like to unlock.

Westmore suggested that to obtain the alleged extortion conversation on Facebook messenger, investigators could contact Facebook directly to obtain the communications, so as to “not trample on the Fifth Amendment.”

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