Police use fingerprints of deceased people to unlock phones


Cases in which police use fingerprints of people who have died to access their smartphones – more specifically Apple's Touch ID technology – have become common in the US, the technique being legal, but also raising some ethical issues, according to Mediafax .

Local and federal police sources in New York and Ohio have said under the protection of anonymity that US authorities are currently using fingerprints of dead people to unlock smartphones from Apple (iPhone), for which systems have been developed Increasing encryption in recent years

For example, the technique has been used in cases of drug overdoses, a source said. In such cases, the information from the victim's phone could lead to the drug provider.

In November 2016, police officer Alan Horujko shot Abdul Razak Ali Artan deadly, after the 20-year-old entered a crowd gathered in front of Ohio State University and attacked people with a knife. Immediately after being shot dead, an FBI agent used a fingerprint of the aggressor to unlock the iPhone he had on him. Police hope the fingerprint will help them access the phone's content and find out more about it.

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The information was made public by FBI Specialist Bob Moledor, who told Forbes about the first public case in which the US police turned to the fingerprint of a deceased person in an attempt to override Apple's Touch ID protection system. Unfortunately for the FBI, they have not been able to unlock the phone, one of the iPhone 5 models. Touch ID technology has been introduced from the iPhone 5S models

In the following hours, the phone was closed and a password was needed. The specialists eventually managed to retrieve the phone data and the authorities then determined that Artan had been inspired by ISIS in his actions.

Sources say the technique is legal, even if there are some ethical issues. Marina Medvin, owner of Medvin Law, said that after the death of a person, it is no longer under the protection of the right to privacy. Relatives or other interested parties have little chance of stopping the police from using the fingerprints of the deceased to access his smartphone

"Once you share the information with someone, you lose control over how that information is protected and used. You can not use your privacy when your friend's phone is scanned and the police see the messages you sent them. The same is true of the information you share with the deceased – once you have sent it, you have lost control of your privacy, "added Medvin.

"We do not need a search warrant to access a victim's phone unless the device has two owners," said detective Robert Cutshall, of the Ohio police, who worked on the Artan case

In previous cases, the police needed a mandate to use fingerprints of some living people to access their phones.

However, there is some uneasiness about the police's ability to appear immediately at the scene of the crime and to immediately access the victims' phones without permission. Greg Nojeim, director of the Freedom, Security and Technology Project at the Center for Democracy & Technology, says that in many cases there may be valid law enforcement concerns when using fingerprints to unlock phones without a probable cause. "That's why the idea of ​​requiring a mandate is acceptable," Nojeim said.

In addition to legal restrictions, fingerprinting is cheaper than calling to mobile content accessing companies, for example, Forbes, the US GrayShift startup with hacking technology. For a technique that allows unlimited attempts to unlock a phone, GrayShift requires up to $ 30,000. After the phone is unlocked, the police will keep it in that state and send it to the specialists who will recover the device data.

Currently, police are analyzing how they could benefit from Apple's facial recognition technology – Face ID – introduced on iPhone X, which could be an easier way to access iPhone than Touch ID

Marc Rogers, a researcher at Cloudflare, told Forbes that he had analyzed Face ID technology in recent months and found he did not need the face of a person alive to function. In principle, Face ID uses the attention and natural movement of the owner's eyes so that the devices should not be unlocked by the face of a deceased person. Rogers, however, discovered that technology also works when faced-up photos are used. Moreover, it seems that the technology also works if one open eye is used to unlock

Contact Forbes, Apple's representatives declined to comment

However, the author of the article adds, there is no evidence that the police would already have used Face ID technology to solve the case

"I was not told that it would be a legal issue related to the use of fingerprints or facial recognition technology to access a phone … (if it is part of a legal process) is something we will use," Cutshall commented.

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