Judge forces Capitol rioter to unlock laptop using facial recognition

Prosecutors argued that the Microsoft device could contain footage of the 6 January insurrection

A federal judge has forced a Capitol rioter to unlock his Microsoft Surface Pro laptop using facial recognition after prosecutors argued it may contain footage of the 6 January insurrection from his helmet-worn camera.

The Justice Department asked to put Capitol rioter Guy Reffitt in front of the device to unlock its biometric security, which judge Dabney Friedrich granted, according to CNN.

Prosecutors believed Reffitt's laptop could contain over 6GB of videos that the defendant filmed while on the grounds of the US Capitol.

Reffitt has been in jail since he was arrested in January. He pleaded not guilty to five federal crimes, including taking a handgun to the Capitol grounds during the insurrection. Previously, Refitt’s attorneys had said that the search warrant for the laptop had expired and that the defendant was unable to remember if there was a password.

The ruling notably diverges from decisions in similar cases involving law enforcement agencies seeking access to locked devices.

In 2019, a California judge ruled that US police departments are unable to force people to unlock their mobile phones using a face or finger, according to Forbes. Judges had ruled before that police were allowed to unlock devices using biometrics, even though they weren’t permitted to force a suspect to share their passcode.

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In what's considered an important part of that case, Judge Westmore said that the government did not have the right, even with a warrant, to force suspects to incriminate themselves by unlocking their devices biometrically.

“If a person cannot be compelled to provide a passcode because it is a testimonial communication, a person cannot be compelled to provide one’s finger, thumb, iris, face, or other biometric feature to unlock that same device," said Westmore.

In 2017, a court in Chicago denied the FBI a warrant to force a building’s occupants to open their Apple devices using their fingerprints. If the request had been granted, it would have allowed federal agents to force people on the premises to unlock their Apple devices using their fingers or thumbs.

The judge argued in that case that the language used in reference to forcing fingerprint unlocking wasn’t specific enough.

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