Lawfare: The Fifth Amendment, Decryption and Biometric Passcodes

Lawfare: The Fifth Amendment, Decryption and Biometric Passcodes by Kendall Howell:

The spread of commercially available encryption products has made it harder for law enforcement officials to access to information that relates to criminal and national security investigations. In October, FBI Director Christopher Wray said that in an 11-month period, the FBI had been unable to extract data from more than 6,900 devices; that is over half of the devices it had attempted to unlock. It’s a “huge, huge problem,” Wray said. One might think that a way around this problem is for the government to order the user to produce the password to the device. But such an order might face a big hurdle: the Fifth Amendment. A handful of cases have emerged in recent years on the applicability of the Fifth Amendment to demands for passwords to encrypted devices. The protections afforded by the amendment depend on, among other things, whether the password involves biometric verification via a unique physical feature, or the more typical string of characters (passcode). As we will see, the government has a bit more leeway under the Fifth Amendment to insist on the decryption of personal computing devices using biometric passwords that—as in the new iPhone X—are increasingly prevalent.

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