It’s very rare that an object can violate your Constitution rights just by existing. Leave it to Apple, and the iPhone 5S, to somehow pull this off.
Specifically, the iPhone 5S’s fancy new fingerprint scanner basically is an accidental end-run around the Fifth Amendment. How the hell does that work? It comes down to what the Supreme Court has defined as “testimonial,” as Wired breaks down:
If the police demand that you give them the key to a lockbox that happens to contain incriminating evidence, turning over the key wouldn’t be testimonial if it’s just a physical act that doesn’t reveal anything you know. However, if the police try to force you to divulge the combination to a wall safe, your response would reveal the contents of your mind — and so would implicate the Fifth Amendment.
In other words, if for some reason the police want to take a look at your phone, if you use a fingerprint scanner, they can make you open it and browse through. But if it’s password-encoded, they can’t. Oh, those wacky laws! Of course, this would also be a violation of the Fourth Amendment but that one seems to be on hold lately.
Wired notes that requiring both the fingerprint scanner and a combination to access your phone would make it a violation of the Fifth, and probably something Apple should do post-haste. It’s also a valuable reminder that as technology advances, laws do not automatically advance with them, and sometimes that can create severe problems. But hey, at least the fingerprint scanner is all fancy!