Believe it or not but in the US, police are now using fingerprints of dead suspects to unlock iPhones. Contrary to popular belief that law enforcement agencies only recently started using dead person fingerprints for unlocking iPhones, Forbes has reported that this has been going on for years.
In its latest report, Forbes confirmed that it is a “relatively common” practice for law enforcement agencies in “New York and Ohio” to use corpse’s fingerprints to unlock iPhones. The report cites anonymous sources and legal consultant Marina Medvin’s statements to assert that this practice is legal on two grounds.
Firstly, deceased people don’t have privacy rights and secondly, individuals who might have sent incriminating information to the deceased cannot claim privacy information over that.
According to Bob Moledor, a forensics expert at the FBI, the very first known case in which a dead person’s fingerprints were used by police was in Nov 2016. In that particular case, the police tried to unlock iPhone 5s that belonged to Abdul Razak Ali Artan.
Artan went on a stabbing spree using a butcher’s knife after mowing down a group of people inside his car and later got shot by the cops on Ohio State University grounds. But, his “lifeless fingerprints” couldn’t unlock the iPhone and the device had to be sent to a forensic lab for unlocking, Moledor told Forbes.
“In the hours between his death and the attempt to unlock, when the feds had to go through legal processes regarding access to the smartphone, the iPhone had gone to sleep and when reopened required a passcode,” Moledor added.
An Ohio police homicide detective Robert Cutshall, who was a team member in Artan’s case, stated that the police don’t need a search warrant to search a victim’s phone “unless it’s shared owned.” The technique has been successful in some cases while not much in others due to excessive wastage of time in between.
In Artan’s case, seven hours had passed and it became impossible to get the phone out of sleep mode without entering the passcode.
Forbes’ report stated that the technique of retrieving data from an iPhone is used primarily in overdose cases where the victim’s phone is believed to have information that directly leads to the dealer. The technique is regarded as completely legitimate despite having certain ethical predicaments to consider. Even the relatives cannot stop cops from using the deceased’s fingerprints or any other body part to access smartphone.
Medvin Law firm owner Marina Medvin stated that after being declared dead, a person ceases to have privacy rights on the body. Moreover, when you have shared information with a person, you lose control over the way it will be secured and used. There is no way to assert privacy rights if the phone is searched and the messages are revealed to the law enforcement even if the person is alive.
We have to admit though that with ever-evolving smartphone security, one day it will be possible to unlock phones using Face ID and Touch ID would become out-dated. Cloudflare’s research and information security head Marc Rogers told Forbes that since Face ID uses your attention and natural eye movement, therefore, using non-moving eyes of the dead people might not unlock devices.
Apple claims that iPhone X’s infrared Face ID tech is much harder to spoof than Touch ID and until today, there hasn’t been any case of cops unlocking someone’s iPhone using Face ID. That’s because the technology requires live gaze from the user to authenticate the owner and unlock the device.
However, Rogers pointed out that the technology itself is not much reliable and can easily be fooled using pictures with open eyes. Presumably, cops will soon be able to unlock iPhone X of a deceased person if they cover the body’s closed eyes with a picture showing open eyes.