Legal experts were shocked at the government’s request. “They want the ability to get a warrant on the assumption that they will learn more after they have a warrant,” said Marina Medvin of Medvin Law. “Essentially, they are seeking to have the ability to convince people to comply by providing their fingerprints to law enforcement under the color of law – because of the fact that they already have a warrant. They want to leverage this warrant to induce compliance by people they decide are suspects later on. This would be an unbelievably audacious abuse of power if it were permitted.”
Jennifer Lynch, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), added: “It’s not enough for a government to just say we have a warrant to search this house and therefore this person should unlock their phone. The government needs to say specifically what information they expect to find on the phone, how that relates to criminal activity and I would argue they need to set up a way to access only the information that is relevant to the investigation.
It’s insane that the US government is getting chained warrants that authorize expansive searches without clarifying what is being sought or the specific rationales for such searches. Such actions represent an absolute violation of due process.
But, at the same time, the government’s actions (again) indicate the relative weaknesses of the ‘going dark’ arguments. While iPhones and other devices are secured to prevent all actors from illegitimately accessing them, fingerprint-enabled devices can let government agencies bypass security protections with relative ease. This doesn’t mean that fingerprint scanners are bad – most people’s threat models aren’t police, but criminals, snoopy friends and family, etc – but instead that authorities can routinely bypass, rather than need to break, cryptographically-secured communications.