Cops force suspect to unlock iPhone with Face ID for first time

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A suspect in the United States was forced by law enforcement officials to unlock his iPhone with Face ID. The case is likely to start a long round of legal filings to determine whether this is constitutional, according to Forbes.

Back in August, the FBI searched the home of 28-year-old Grant Michalski, a Columbus, Ohio resident. Armed with a search warrant, Michalski had to activate Face ID to open his iPhone X. By doing so, the cops were able to pick through the suspect’s information. He was eventually charged with receiving and possessing child pornography.

The Michalski case is being described as “another significant moment” in the ongoing battle between law enforcement and tech providers. It follows multiple instances where suspects were told to unlock their iPhones with their fingerprints.

Law enforcement in Ohio did obtain a search warrant in the latest case. However, concerns remain about the use of such tactics.

For example, Jerome Greco, staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society, said:

Traditionally, using a person’s face as evidence or to obtain evidence would be considered lawful. But never before have we had so many people’s own faces be the key to unlock so much of their private information.

Where this goes from here is unknown.

Fred Jennings, a senior associate at Tor Ekeland Law, said cases like Michalski’s could fall under the Fifth Amendment, which promises to protect individuals from incriminating themselves in lawsuits.

“The law is not well formed to provide the intuitive protections people think about when they’re using a Face ID unlock,” Jennings said. “People aren’t typically thinking [when they use Face ID] that it’s a physical act so I don’t have this right against self-incrimination.”

And with Apple’s devices, it may be more difficult for defendants to argue their face is a piece of knowledge protected by the Fifth, than it is for fingers. “Arguably if law enforcement says use your finger to unlock, the knowledge of which finger [will unlock an iPhone] is still an item of knowledge being produced by the individual,” Jennings explained. “Whereas with Face ID, by design it will only unlock with a very specific and obvious and body part.”

It will be interesting to see where this goes from here. No doubt, there will be a lot of back and forth before a consensus is reached.

Face ID is available on the 2017 iPhone X, and this year’s iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and upcoming iPhone XR.

Where do you stand on this issue? Let us know below.