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Feds' Warrant Request: Hand Over Your Phones -- And Your Fingerprints

by Ian Bush

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- It's an issue that centers around smartphones secured with a fingerprint: a federal court filing in California has raised a red flag with privacy advocates here and across the country.

Everyone in the property, turn over your phones -- and let your fingers do the unlocking. That's what the Justice Department asked a judge to permit as part of a search warrant.

"There's no indication as to any limitation of what the government is looking for within the devices," says Ted Schaer, partner at the law firm Zarwin Baum in Philadelphia. "So it really is a broad and overreaching attempt to violate the privacy protections that citizens are afforded."

With previous court rulings prohibiting law enforcement from compelling passcodes, he says this biometric grab smacks of an end-run around the Fourth and Fifth Amendments.

"You can't execute a search warrant with the hope of finding information and using that as an excuse to make the search reasonable at a later time," Schaer argues. "You need a reasonable basis to begin with."

It's unclear whether the judge agreed to the feds' request, which was first reported by Forbes.

"While biometrics certainly provide a form of security for a person's device, it's not foolproof," Schaer says. "The best security measure that you can do for your phone is put in a unique, six-digit password that you, and only you, know to protect that information."

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