Following the 2015 terrorist shooting in San Bernardino, California, the FBI found itself unable to access a passcode protected iPhone 5c belonging to one of the shooters. Subsequently, the FBI asked Apple to create a custom version of iOS that would enable the bureau to enter in an endless number of passcode guesses, a request Apple outright refused.
Flash forward a few years, and the dynamics surrounding iPhone security have shifted dramatically. These days, most iPhones in use aren’t protected by a passcode, but by a fingerprint. Of course, with the introduction of Face ID last year, it won’t be long before most iPhones are protected by an individual’s face. In the interim, though, the vast majority of iPhones today are secured by Touch ID, a fact which, interestingly enough, has made it easier for law enforcement authorities to access a device belonging to a criminal or suspect who has died.
According a new report in Forbes, police and law enforcement officials have started accessing ostensibly locked devices with the fingerprints of dead owners.
Separate sources close to local and federal police investigations in New York and Ohio, who asked to remain anonymous as they weren’t authorized to speak on record, said it was now relatively common for fingerprints of the deceased to be depressed on the scanner of Apple iPhones, devices which have been wrapped up in increasingly powerful encryption over recent years. 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.
As for any legal hurdles which might prevent law enforcement from placing the finger of a dead individual on an iPhone, legal authorities claim that the dead do not enjoy a right to privacy. In other words, a search warrant to access the device of a deceased individual is not needed, though the ethical considerations of such a practice are reportedly a topic of fierce debate.