iPhones are being unlocked with dead fingers

JC Torres - Mar 22, 2018, 10:23 pm CDT
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iPhones are being unlocked with dead fingers

Crime shows like CSI are known for using unusual, unrealistic, and sometimes morbid techniques in the pursuit of justice. But, as they say, sometimes reality is stranger than fiction. Ever encountered a locked iPhone whose owner was just recently deceased? No problem, according to some sources in law enforcement. Police are reportedly using those dead people’s fingers to unlock said iPhones in order to find evidence or leads. And best of all, it’s completely legal.

Unlocking iPhones has become a rather touchy subject when law enforcement is concerned in light of the San Bernardino shooting. Not only did Apple explain that it technically didn’t have the ability to unlock the phone since it didn’t store users’ encryption keys, it also refused any suggestion to install backdoors into its devices and services. Insider sources, however, are claiming that police no longer need Apple’s help in the case that the owner is already dead. They just need the owner’s finger.

There’s going to be some debate around whether that’s actually true. Fingerprint sensors might require signs of life in order to identify a “living” finger, but that could probably be bypassed as well. One FBI forensics specialist failed to do so in a 2016 case but sources say it’s becoming more and more common. Once the phone has been unlocked, police will then keep the iPhone unlocked and use other tools to extract information from the device.

It might sound objectionable, but lawyers claim that it’s not actually illegal. Unlike a living and breathing human being, the dead don’t have a right to privacy as far as their body, or body parts, are concerned. In other words, its’ free game for the police to make warrantless unlocking of iPhones. Other lawyers, however, aren’t as convinced.

It doesn’t stop at iPhone’s Touch ID fingerprint authentication either. Forensic experts, in addition to hackers, are already working on trying to circumvent Face ID, which some claim might actually be easier to spoof than Touch ID. Apple will probably beg to disagree and might have updates to ensure that doesn’t become common practice.


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