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Verdict: Police may use fingerprint to unlock smartphone

Almost all smartphones are nowadays unlocked with biometric data such as fingerprints or face scans. A new ruling by the Ravensburg Regional Court now provides clarity for the police and allows law enforcement agencies to use the fingerprint of suspects to unlock the cell phone for investigation purposes.

Police may use fingerprint to unlock smartphones

In a landmark ruling, the Ravensburg Regional Court concluded that law enforcement agencies may use the fingerprints of defendants to unlock electronic devices.

The case was preceded by a complaint from a defendant who had refused to unlock his smartphone for the police. The latter then took the man’s fingerprints and used them to unlock the device, whereupon the man filed a complaint with the Ravensburg Regional Court on January 12, 2023, and took action against it. In the ruling of February 14, 2023, the judge came to a clear conclusion:

According to § 81b para. 1 StPO, the police action is legal. Attorney Detleff Burhoff explains on his blog why the law here considers the action permissible. The judge was well aware that the applicable law predates smartphones and biometric logon procedures, but that it is formulated in a way that is open to technology, and thus that fingerprinting – even involuntarily – is to be tolerated.

The court order (via Burhoff Online Blog) accordingly states:

“[…]81b para. 1 1st Var. StPO authorizes already according to the wording to take fingerprints from the accused. The accused must tolerate the measure as a passive measure (see Rottmeier/Eckel, NStZ 2020, p. 193 (195)). In the case of resistance, Section 81b (1) even authorizes the use of direct coercion, such as by placing the fingers of the accused on the fingerprint sensor.”

Password, PIN and Co not yet allowed

So the police are currently very well allowed to use the fingerprint to unlock the smartphone in the context of an investigation. Whether this will change in the future remains to be seen.

Incidentally, law enforcement agencies are not allowed (at least not at present) to unlock smartphones or other devices using passwords, PINs or codes and patterns.

Simon Lüthje

I am co-founder of this blog and am very interested in everything that has to do with technology, but I also like to play games. I was born in Hamburg, but now I live in Bad Segeberg.

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Almost all smartphones are nowadays unlocked with biometric data such as fingerprints or face scans. A new ruling by the Ravensburg Regional Court now provides clarity for the police and allows law enforcement agencies to use the fingerprint of suspects to unlock the cell phone for investigation purposes. Police may use fingerprint to unlock smartphones … (Weiterlesen...)

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