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Security Expert Says FBI Has Unlocked iPhones With Fingerprints of The Deceased

by Derek Gilna

FBI forensics specialist Bob Moledor claims that FBI used the lifeless index finger of at least one dead suspect to unlock his iPhone to search for evidence. In 2016, Moledor said the agency unsuccessfully attempted to use the finger of suspected terrorist Abdul Razak Ali Artan, who was shot to death in 2016 after stabbing students at Ohio State University, to unlock his phone.

Touch ID technology was first available on iPhone 5S, but Artan had an iPhone 5, requiring the efforts of an outside contractor, who was finally able to retrieve information from the phone. Private contractors charge between $1,500 and $30,000 to unlock these phones.

Anonymous sources have advised Forbes magazine that the practice of using the fingerprints of the deceased to unlock phones, especially in drug overdose cases, is not uncommon. Law enforcement maintain that the deceased have no right of privacy and that warrants are not necessary for the process. “We do not need a search warrant to get into a victim’s phone, unless it’s shared owned,” maintained Ohio police detective Robert Cutshall.

According to Marina Medvin, of Medvin Law: “Once you share information with someone, you lose control over how that information is protected and used. You cannot assert your privacy rights when your friend’s phone is searched and the police see the messages that you sent to your friend. Same goes for sharing information with the deceased—after you released information to the deceased, you have lost control of privacy,” she said.

Not everyone is in favor of this development. Greg Nojeim, who holds the positions of senior counsel and director at the Center for Democracy & Technology said, “the idea of requiring a warrant isn’t out of bounds.”

Other security experts feel that there is nothing standing in the way of law enforcement using the faces of the deceased to unlock their phones. Marc Rogers, a Cloudflare executive who has studied the Facial ID process, said the person need not be alive for his face to unlock his phone. He indicated that, “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.”


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