This morning, Al Roker, Matt Lauer, and the rest of the Today Show news team gleefully played with the iPhone 5c and 5s. The biometric login for the iPhone 5s wowed them. Sure, a fingerprint login seems like a simple advancement given today’s technologies, but biometric access to personal information changes how the legal system views your civil rights. This is the part of the story the news anchors on the Today Show forgot to tell you.
Fingerprint recognition may void your right to take the 5th.
Marcia Hoffman’s article in Wired elegantly explains the legal difference between biometric device access and memory-based access such as a PIN or password. In essence, the government cannot compel you to incriminate yourself through testimony, which is your intrinsic knowledge. However, biometric access to data does not require use of your knowledge, and therefore does not constitute testimony.
The unintended consequence of fingerprint access to your mobile devices can have a devastating effect on personal freedom. We seem to be ignoring that aspect as we ooooh and aaaaah over the iPhone’s latest feature. Metrics show just how much we ignore this new risk. Wired published Hoffman’s article six days ago. At this moment, the article has been shared 15.2k times on Facebook, 2,539 times on Twitter, 971 times on Google+, and 889 times on LinkedIn.
Of course, the information reaches much wider than those numbers indicate. Lots of writers have picked up the story and shared their own spin. A technological change that has this much impact on an individual’s legal rights should have much higher visibility in a country that holds personal freedom as a core value. Shame on national news programs for skipping this part of the story.