Judge Rules FBI Cannot View a Phone Lock Screen Without a Warrant

The FBI broke the law when it powered on a suspect's smartphone to take a photo of his lock screen without a warrant, a U.S. District Court Judge has ruled (via Ars Technica).

iphone11faceid
In a Seattle court, Judge John Coughenour determined that gathering evidence from a lock screen constitutes a search, therefore doing so without first obtaining a warrant violates the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable search seizure.

Joseph Sam from Washington state was arrested in May 2019 and indicted on several charges related to robbery and assault. The suspect was in possession of a Motorola smartphone. According to Sam, one of the officers present at his arrest pressed the power button to bring up the phone's lock screen.

What is known is that on February 13, 2020, the FBI removed Mr. Sam's phone from inventory, powered the phone on, and took a photograph of the lock screen [...] The photograph shows the name “STREEZY” right underneath the time and date.

The suspect's name revealed on the phone's unlock screen turned out to be useful evidence. Sam's lawyer subsequently filed a motion arguing that this evidence should not have been sought without a warrant and should therefore be suppressed.

Judge Coughenour ruled that the police were within their rights to look at the lock screen at the time of the arrest, given that certain circumstances allow for a search to take place without a warrant. However, investigators involved in later search and seizure must obtain a warrant first.

The police's examination took place either incident to a lawful arrest or as part of the police's efforts to inventory the personal effects found during Mr. Sam's arrest. The FBI's examination, by contrast, occurred long after the police had arrested Mr. Sam and inventoried his personal effects. Those examinations present significantly different legal issues […]

The FBI physically intruded on Mr. Sam's personal effect when the FBI powered on his phone to take a picture of the phone's lock screen.

Usually when the topic of a smartphone search comes up in court, the question has to do with forcing suspects to unlock their phone, so this is the first case where merely viewing a lock screen has been subject to judicial scrutiny.

A 2019 U.S. court ruling judged that law enforcement officials can't force smartphone users to unlock their devices using fingerprints or other biometric features such as facial recognition, since doing so would run afoul of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments.

Previous to the 2019 ruling, multiple cases involved law enforcement forcing suspects to unlock their iPhones and other devices using biometric authentication.

Note: Due to the political or social nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Political News forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.

Top Rated Comments

dannyyankou Avatar
10 months ago
This is constitutional law 101. The warrant is what makes “unreasonable search and seizure” reasonable.
Score: 25 Votes (Like | Disagree)
clayj Avatar
10 months ago
The judge is correct. There ALWAYS needs to be a warrant, especially for anything not in plain sight.


You learn something new everyday... My question is, why would they take a picture of it? Why couldn’t they just write that name down? Lol. It’s not like there was any other info on the screen.

Interesting stuff.
You take a picture because that's better proof of what was on the phone. Otherwise some crooked cop could just write something down and SAY he saw it.
Score: 21 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Scottsoapbox Avatar
10 months ago
The article title is missing the key word later.

As looking at the lock screen was ruled fine at the time of arrest.
Score: 9 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Appleman3546 Avatar
10 months ago
This decision so fact sensitive and nuanced. If the lock screen is on and in a public place, it is available to the public and the US Supreme Court will likely rule it is like viewing a car on a public road (permissible to survey without a warrant). If the screen is off or in a private place, there is likely to be a reasonable expectation of privacy. Regardless, some states have already permitted access to phones in lawsuits such as Antico v Sindt Trucking in Florida (later approved by the Supreme Court of Florida in Weaver v Myers)
Score: 5 Votes (Like | Disagree)
MacBandit Avatar
10 months ago

just more reasons to lock down everything on the phone.. lol.
I have my phone setup is it doesn’t even show notifications until unlocked.
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)
MadDawg2020 Avatar
10 months ago
Don’t worry folks - Mitch McConnell is working very hard right now to push new search and seizure laws through the Senate that will guarantee that search warrants will no longer be necessary for the Government to search any of our data any time they want, on any device you own and for any reason they want, with no probably cause, no notification or no compensation to you ever, - regardless of you were involved in a crime or not!
Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

2021 mbp sd slot feature2

Kuo: New MacBook Pro Models With HDMI Port and SD Card Reader to Launch Later This Year

Monday February 22, 2021 8:52 pm PST by
Apple plans to release two new MacBook Pro models equipped with an HDMI port and SD card reader in the second half of 2021, according to analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who outlined his expectations in a research note obtained by MacRumors. The return of an SD card reader was first reported by Bloomberg's Mark Gurman last month. "We predict that Apple's two new MacBook Pro models in 2H21 will have...
m1 mac mini

M1 Mac Users Report Excessive SSD Wear

Tuesday February 23, 2021 7:07 am PST by
Over the past week, some M1 Mac users have been reporting alarming SSD health readings, suggesting that these devices are writing extraordinary amounts of data to their drives (via iMore). Across Twitter and the MacRumors forums, users are reporting that M1 Macs are experiencing extremely high drive writes over a short space of time. In what appear to be the most severe cases, M1 Macs are sai...
iphone 12 pro display video

BOE Rumored to Supply iPhone 13 Display Panels After iPhone 12 Failures

Monday February 22, 2021 9:54 am PST by
Display manufacturer BOE will be one of the main suppliers of OLED panels for iPhone 13 models, according to a new report today from Taiwan's Economic Daily News. BOE is said to be working with touch panel manufacturer General Interface Solution (GIS), part of the Hon Hai Group to develop OLED panels. Multiple iPhone 12 rumors suggested that BOE would supply some panels for the devices,...
mac security privacy

Apple Takes Step to Prevent Further Spread of 'Silver Sparrow' Malware on Macs

Monday February 22, 2021 6:13 am PST by
Over the weekend, we reported on the second known piece of malware compiled to run natively on M1 Macs. Given the name "Silver Sparrow," the malicious package is said to leverage the macOS Installer JavaScript API to execute suspicious commands. After observing the malware for over a week, however, security firm Red Canary did not observe any final payload, so the exact threat to users remains a...
jon prosser imac 2021colors

Prosser: 2021 iMac to Come in Five Colors, Apple Silicon Mac Pro to Resemble 'Stacked' Mac Minis

Wednesday February 24, 2021 7:26 am PST by
Hit-and-miss leaker Jon Prosser has today alleged that the upcoming 2021 iMac models will offer five color options, mirroring the colors of the fourth-generation iPad Air, and revealed a number of additional details about the Mac Pro with Apple Silicon. In a new video on YouTube channel FrontPageTech, Prosser explained that the redesigned iMacs will come featuring options for Silver, Space ...
whatsapp privacy banner

WhatsApp Reveals What Happens to Users Who Don't Agree to Upcoming Privacy Policy Changes

Sunday February 21, 2021 1:11 am PST by
WhatsApp has revealed how it will gradually limit the features available to accounts held by users who do not accept the platform's impending privacy policy changes, due to come into effect on May 15. WhatsApp's new banner explaining the privacy policy changes According to an email seen by TechCrunch to one of its merchant partners, WhatsApp said it will "slowly ask" users who have not yet...
new airpods leaked image 52audios

Alleged Leaked Image Claims to Show Third-Generation AirPods and Case

Sunday February 21, 2021 2:49 am PST by
A new image claims to offer our first real world look at Apple's next-generation AirPods. The image, shared by 52audio, showcases both AirPods and the charging case for what the site claims to be the third iteration of the wireless earbuds. 52audio has in the past shared images claiming to showcase different parts of the third-generation AirPods. Most notably, the site in November shared...
anker magsafe powercore battery pack

Anker Releases MagSafe-Compatible Battery Pack for iPhone 12 Lineup

Tuesday February 23, 2021 7:49 am PST by
Following rumors that Apple is working on a MagSafe battery pack for iPhone 12 models, popular accessory maker Anker has beaten Apple to the punch with the release of its PowerCore Magnetic 5K Wireless Power Bank. First previewed at CES 2021, the PowerCore battery pack magnetically attaches to the back of any iPhone 12 model and provides 5W of wireless charging. With a 5,000 mAh capacity,...
iPad Pro Mini LED

New iPad Pro and MacBook Models With Mini-LED Displays Again Rumored to Launch This Year

Monday February 22, 2021 9:32 pm PST by
Taiwanese company Ennostar will begin production of Mini-LED backlight units for an upcoming 12.9-inch iPad Pro in the late first quarter or second quarter of this year, according to industry sources cited by DigiTimes. Ennostar is a holding company that was jointly established in January 2021 by LED-related manufacturers Epistar and Lextar Electronics. Apple is expected to unveil the new ...
14

iOS 14.5 to Make Zero-Click Attacks 'Significantly Harder'

Monday February 22, 2021 9:05 am PST by
Apple's impending iOS and iPadOS 14.5 update will make zero-click attacks considerably more difficult by extending PAC security provisions, according to Motherboard. Apple has made a change to the way in which it secures its code in the latest betas of iOS 14.5 and iPadOS 14.5 to make zero-click attacks much harder. The change, spotted by security researchers, has now been confirmed by...