California Authorities and Biometric Technology

Police Departments and Biometric Data

Police departments in California have been using biometric data to identify fingerprints and recognize faces in an effort to find suspects. Agencies around the state have been using smartphone cameras and mobile apps to recognize faces of suspects. Los Angeles, San Jose, and a couple of other agencies use fingerprint data from biometrics to match them with criminal files. Some police departments are also beginning to use tattoo and iris recognition to catch lawbreakers. Los Angeles County police departments are willing to go as far as using DNA recognition and analysis to catch criminals, but this new technology will likely come with a hefty price tag. The facial and tattoo recognition biometric technology has already cost $2 million and the next step of the technology can cost up to $10 million.

Why are Los Angeles Country Police Departments in the Spotlight?

Los Angeles County police departments seem to be at the forefront of biometric technology. This may be a result of the San Bernardino Shooting. As people around the nation were watching Apple and the FBI battle over unlocking the San Bernardino shooter’s phone, something else was going on in Glendale, a city only an hour away from San Bernardino. Authorities in Glendale had found a phone that belonged to an Armenian gang member. When they found the suspect’s girlfriend,Paytsar Bkhchadzhyan, authorities wanted her to unlock her phone so they could get more information about the alleged gang activity. Her iPhone was protected by her fingerprint, but she was required to comply with the authorities and provide her fingerprint. This forced many to ask the question of how far the government could go to obtain fingerprints and other biometric markers.

Is the government going too far with biometric data?

Many lawyers and scholars were outraged after Bkhchadzhyan was forced to provide her fingerprint. Law professor Susan Brenna said the contents of a phone may be incriminating and therefore forcing someone to provide their fingerprint may be a violation of the 5th Amendment. Bkhchadzhyan’s finger was seen as testimony by many scholars and the information in the phone was seen as physical evidence. The US Supreme Court allows authorities to search phones and has permitted authorities to compel people in custody to provide fingerprints without a judge’s permission. Many people were upset by this issue of forced unlocking with a fingerprint, but others argue that the information found in a phone is similar to something that would have been found with a warrant. George Dery, a law professor and a lawyer, said, “Before cell phones, much of this information would be found in a person’s home. This has a warrant. Even though it is a big deal having someone open up their phone, they’ve gone to a judge and it means there’s a likelihood of criminal activity.”

The legal battle between Apple and the FBI really forced many people to take a critical view at the government and how authorities may be collecting too much information about average Americans. Although it was uncommon to see lawsuits over fingerprints and biometric data in the past, we expect to see a lot more litigation on this issue in the coming years. Since police departments in California are working on purchasing newer technologies to gather more data, we may see more lawsuits arising in the state in the near future.

Sources referenced:

  1. ABA Journal
  2. PC Mag
  3. Los Angeles Times
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