Technologist - The FindLaw Legal Technology Blog

Cops Use Face ID to Unlock Child Pornography Suspect's iPhone X

An Ohio man suspected of possessing child pornography was compelled to put his face in front of his iPhone X in order to unlock it for law enforcement.

This is being reported as the first ever use, worldwide, of Apple's Face ID in a criminal investigation. And while a warrant was secured, as a result of Apple's latest security patch, investigators were only able to access chat logs, photos, and more for a brief period of time.

Apple Patched It

Notably, Apple released an update for their devices that utilize Face ID that somewhat closes the Face ID door to would-be searchers and/or law enforcement. Apparently, with the recent software update, if a device's passcode has not been entered within the last hour, Face ID will not unlock the device.

Unfortunately in the Ohio case, although investigators were able to conduct a cursory search of the device after it was unlocked with the suspect's face, the phone became locked again, and for more than the one hour window.

Despite the long line of cases holding that a defendant cannot be compelled to unlock a password protected device, when biometric data is the password, courts seem to be okay with compelling an unlock. However, whether the Face ID unlock method will share the same fate in court as the fingerprint unlock method is yet to be tested.

What is clear is that investigators need to be aware of how the software operates to avoid getting locked out of access via biometrics, and individuals need to be aware of the fact that Face ID and other biometric passcodes aren't nearly as secure as they are convenient.

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