Virginia Circuit Judge Steven Frucci ruled on Tuesday that police cannot force suspects to key in their passwords in their devices, but they can have them unlock the phones with fingerprints.
Apple first introduced fingerprint technology when it launched its iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C last year promising to provide simple yet secured authentication of users' identities through Apple Touch ID fingerprint scanner. Samsung started incorporating the same technology on its Samsung Galaxy S5.
The court can ask suspects to open their phones through fingerprint scanners as the Fifth Amendment doesn't consider fingerprints and other biometrics as a testimony.
"We can't invoke the privilege against self-incrimination to prevent the government from collecting biometrics like fingerprints, DNA samples, or voice exemplars," wrote defense attorney Marcia Hofmann to Wired. "The courts have decided that this evidence doesn't reveal anything you know."
Judge Frucci made the decision after an emergency medical services captain David Baust was accused of domestic abuse. The police asked him to open the phone to gather evidence that may support the case, but the defendant refused claiming that he is protected by the Fifth Amendment. Now, Baust will not be asked to key in passwords but required to put his fingerprint to open the device. He is scheduled to unlock the phone on Monday morning, according to the Wall Street Journal.
In case the phone still requires a password, the prosecutors plan to file an appeal. According to a Mac Rumors report, the defendant might be storing video of him strangling his girlfriend.
Meanwhile, experts were not surprised of the judge's decision.
"It's exactly what we thought it would happen when Apple announced its fingerprint ID," Hanni Fakhoury, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights organization, told Mashable.
Baust's case only proves that while fingerprint scanner technology can protect one's privacy, it does not provide legal protection as a password does.