Police in the US routinely use dead people’s fingerprints to unlock their iPhones in investigations, according to a new Forbes report.
The report cites anonymous sources “close to local and federal police investigations in New York and Ohio,” who claim that it the practice is “relatively common”. Forbes also cites legal consultant Marina Medvin in asserting that the practice is perfectly legal, first because dead people do not have privacy rights, and second because other individuals who may have sent incriminating information to the deceased person’s phone have no claim to privacy rights over the information they have sent.
Police authorities’ regular application of deceased individuals’ fingers to their iPhones for the purpose of unlocking is perhaps a logical step forward from initial, tentative forays into this method of investigation – notably a 2016 collaboration with a Michigan State University biometrics expert to fabricate the fingerprints of a murder victim in order to unlock his phone. It proved to be a complex undertaking, albeit one in which a relatively simple solution was ultimately found, when the researcher printed the victims fingerprints on conductive paper and used the copies to unlock the device. Still, it’s clearly much more straightforward, if a little creepy, to simply use the fingerprint of the deceased to unlock a phone of interest right away.
Of course, with the rapid evolution of mobile biometric technologies, the question today is more about whether facial recognition can be used in the same way, especially since the most high profile consumer authentication solution, the iPhone X’s infrared Face ID system, ostensibly requires a live gaze from a subject in the authentication process. Marc Rogers, a security researcher with Cloudflare, tells Forbes that this liveness detection system “can be fooled simply using photos of open eyes,” echoing the spoofing claims made by security researchers at BKAV last autumn.
That means cops should still be able to unlock a dead person’s iPhone X so long as they cover the cadaver’s closed eyes with photos of open ones – an approach that could prove just as efficacious as fingerprint scanning, but also much more creepy.
March 26, 2018 – by Alex Perala