Federal investigators reportedly sought authority to force everyone located at a California property they were searching in May to use their fingerprints to unlock their phones, according to a court filing discovered by Forbes.
The Justice Department said the fingerprints were crucial to unlocking the smartphones and therefore the situation warranted broad legal authority.
It’s not known if the search was actually executed.
Law enforcement agencies have been looking for ways to access increasingly secure smartphones to aid their investigations. In February, Apple and the FBI clashed when the FBI tried to force Apple to unlock the iPhone of one of the perpetrators in the San Bernardino terrorist attacks. Apple's CEO Tim Cook argued that the order had far-reaching implications in the ongoing debate over encryption and privacy.
Legal experts say this latest revelation wherein authorities could compel people to unlock their phones with their fingerprints sets a troubling precedent.
“You need to have a reasonable basis before you begin the search—that reasonable basis is what allows you to search in the first place,” criminal defense lawyer Marina Medvin told Forbes. “If this kind of thing became law then there would be nothing to prevent… a search of every phone at a certain location.”