Report examines how police use fingerprints of dead people to unlock iPhones & how Face ID is also vulnerable

The topic of using the fingerprint of a dead person to unlock an iPhone with Touch ID has been brought to light in the past, and now a new report from Forbes dives into a bit more into details regarding the practice. The report includes anecdotes from various law enforcement and FBI sources who offer more color on the practice of using a dead suspect’s fingerprint for Touch ID…

Speaking to Forbes, FBI forensics specialist Bob Moledor explained that common problem for law enforcement agencies is getting the necessary information off a suspect’s iPhone before the device requires a passcode. This was the case when the FBI attempted to gain access to Abdul Razak Ali Artan’s iPhone in 2016:

Unfortunately for the FBI, Artan’s lifeless fingerprint didn’t unlock the device (an iPhone 5 model, though Moledor couldn’t recall which. Touch ID was introduced in the iPhone 5S).

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 said.

The report goes on to say, however, that many other instances have seen law enforcement successfully gain access to a dead person’s iPhone using Touch ID. Citing sources close to local and federal police investigations in New York and Ohio, the report says that it is “relatively common fingerprints of the deceased to be depressed on the scanner of Apple iPhones.”

In some cases, law enforcement is looking for information on the suspect through the victim’s phone. For instance, in an overdose case, the victim’s phone could contain details “leading directly to the dealer”

For instance, the technique has been used in overdose cases, said one source. In such instances, the victim’s phone could contain information leading directly to the dealer.

The legality of this practice isn’t completely clear, though law enforcement says they do not need a search warrant to access a victim’s phone:

And it’s entirely legal for police to use the technique, even if there might be some ethical quandaries to consider. Marina Medvin, owner of Medvin Law, said that once a person is deceased, they no longer have a privacy interest in their dead body.

“We do not need a search warrant to get into a victim’s phone, unless it’s shared owned,” said Ohio police homicide detective Robert Cutshall, who worked on the Artan case.

As for Face ID, Marc Rogers, a Cloudfare security researcher said that face recognition technology can be fooled by “simply using photos of open eyes.” While Rogers isn’t the first to make such claims, Apple continues to say that Face ID is even more secure than Touch ID.

Rogers also claims that Face ID only needs to see one open eye to unlock.

Secondly, Rogers discovered this was possible from many angles and the phone only seemed to need to see one open eye to unlock. “In that sense it’s easier to unlock than Touch ID – all you need to do is show your target his or her phone and the moment they glance it unlocks,” he added.

Ultimately, Rogers says there haven’t yet been any cases of police unlocking a person’s iPhone with Face ID, though he suspects it will eventually be used the same way that Touch ID is used now.

What do you think of police using a dead person’s fingerprint to unlock their iPhone? Do you buy into the security concerns suggested in relation to Face ID? Let us know down in the comments!


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