What a Waste

Lots of interesting news at the intersection of privacy and security these days. The ongoing Apple/FBI feud is only a tiny piece of it.

Consider, for example, the case of Paytsar Bkhchadzhyan. It seems that not all locking methods are created equal in the eyes of the law.

Things you know, such as a password, are legally protected: you can’t be forced to give them up because that would infringe on your constitutional right not to testify against yourself.

But things you own, like a PIN fob, or things you are, like a fingerprint, are not protected.

Accordingly, a court has ordered Ms. Bkhchadzhyan to give investigators her fingerprint along with her iPhone. It’s unclear whether they’re holding her fingerprint–and presumably her finger–while searching the phone.

Mind you, there’s still some wiggle room in the legal interpretation. Ars also has a report on a man who’s been held in jail for seven months for refusing to supply the password to decrypt a pair of hard drives.

His lawyer has invoked the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, but to date the legal system appears to believe that the now-infamous All Writs Act–the same law the FBI was trying to use against Apple–supersedes the Constitution.

So, pending the result of the current appeal, using a passcode doesn’t seem much safer than a fingerprint.

Not all the news is bad, however. In a case that will mostly be of interest to residents of Washington State, a King County judge has ruled that sanitation workers cannot dig through trash while collecting it.

Seattle required workers to inspect trash to ensure that food waste went into compost bins instead of trash. However, the judge held that amounted to a warrantless search, and was forbidden under the privacy provisions of the Washington State Constitution.

It’s a minor victory for privacy, yes. And sanitation workers can–and will–still check for compostable materials “in plain view.” But at least they won’t be able to open garbage bags and dig through them checking for compliance.

We’ll take our victories where we can find them.

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