Facial Recognition, Biometric Identification, and the Fifth Amendment

Apple just introduced the iPhone X, a new high-end smartphone. The phone can be unlocked using facial recognition, just as current iPhones can be unlocked using a fingerprint scanner. According to Forbes, the phone “uses a combination of light projectors and sensors to take several images of your facial features,” then compares the face of a person seeking to unlock the phone to the “depth map” it has created.

I wrote here and here about the Fifth Amendment implications of fingerprint scanners. The few courts that have addressed the issue have mostly agreed that a suspect can’t be required to provide the passcode to a phone, absent unusual circumstances, because that would violate the Fifth Amendment’s privilege against self-incrimination. However, courts mostly have held that a suspect may be ordered to press a finger to the phone because doing so is not “testimonial” and so is outside the scope of the privilege.

I thought that this would be a good time to consider facial recognition and the Fifth Amendment, and to provide an update on a recent case that reaches a different result than most other decisions to date.

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