First Case Surfaces of Law Enforcement Forcing Suspect to Unlock iPhone With Face ID

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A Forbes report has highlighted the first known case of law enforcement forcing a suspect to unlock an iPhone using Face ID.

The incident reportedly happened in August when federal agents obtained a warrant to search the house of a man in Columbus, Ohio, as part of a child abuse investigation.

Apple marketing image for Face ID

According to case documents, FBI agents got 28-year-old Grant Michalski to put his face in front of his iPhone X to activate the Face ID facial authentication.

After the device was unlocked, investigators looked through Michalski's chat history, photos, and other files stored on the phone. Evidence discovered on the device was used to charge the suspect later that month with receiving and possessing child pornography.

Several previous cases have occurred where law enforcement has gained access to digital data by forcing people to unlock mobile devices using their fingers. One case even reportedly involved trying to use the finger of a dead person to unlock a phone, which ultimately didn't work.

However, this appears to be the first case in which Face ID has been used, so it's likely to reignite debate over where the law stands in relation to biometric authentication methods.

In the United States, forcing someone to give up a password is interpreted as self-incrimination, which is protected by the fifth amendment and against the law. Nevertheless, courts have ruled that there's a difference between a biometric recognition system like Touch ID and a passcode that you type into your phone.

In the case highlighted by Forbes, the FBI was eventually locked out of the phone and had to gain a second search warrant to allow them to conduct a more thorough search of the device using a third-party unlocking solution, likely similar to Grayshift.

Note: Due to the political nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Politics, Religion, Social Issues forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.

Article Link: First Case Surfaces of Law Enforcement Forcing Suspect to Unlock iPhone With Face ID
 
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Nuno Lopes

macrumors regular
Sep 6, 2011
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Lisbon, Portugal
If with a warrant to search a house one is forced to let the police in, eventually things might be seized, why someone letting the police in a phone should be any different? Phones, computer or whatever. A judge warrant is a warrant.

This context is not about privacy.

Privacy would be some company or individual having access to your private data without your consent (or not under a judge warrant).

If America starts to distrust its judiciary system and taking privacy, protection (guns etc) to its own hands (including "hiring" private companies like Apple) because the system is failing, the fabric of democracy .... dark and hot ages ahead I predict.

I repeat, this is not about privacy.
 
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Pangalactic

macrumors 6502
Nov 28, 2016
420
860
Basically this is why you shouldn't ever use Face ID or Touch ID or Windows Hello or anything like that if you care about security (and also why all the governments are so happy about these new "security" measures)

If you just have a strong password, it will take the government quite a bit of effort to crack it, interrogations etc, which obviously will require a lot of permissions and pushing the law.

On the other hand, forcing you to place your finger on a scanner? Or scanning your face? That hardly takes anything and it's pretty hard to argue against your rights being violated since there were no force or interrogation techniques applied.
 

Bornee35

macrumors 6502
May 6, 2013
419
1,118
Canada
Basically this is why you shouldn't ever use Face ID or Touch ID or Windows Hello or anything like that if you care about security (and also why all the governments are so happy about these new "security" measures)

If you just have a strong password, it will take the government quite a bit of effort to crack it, interrogations etc, which obviously will require a lot of permissions and pushing the law.

On the other hand, forcing you to place your finger on a scanner? Or scanning your face? That hardly takes anything and it's pretty hard to argue against your rights being violated since there were no force or interrogation techniques applied.
Privacy and security go out the window with a search warrant listing electronic devices. Seriously think you have a say about your phone when being investigated for CP?
 

antonis

macrumors 68020
Jun 10, 2011
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Nevertheless, courts have ruled that there's a difference between a biometric recognition system like Touch ID and a passcode that you type into your phone.
Huh ? How's even possible for such a rule to exist ? We're talking about two different methods to access the same device/information. Under which logic only one of the two methods is protected by law against self-incrimination and not the other ? So, if one uses passcode is entitled to deny to unlock his/her device but in any other case government has the right to demand to a person to self-incriminate ?
 

ammon

macrumors regular
Sep 24, 2005
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Colorado
I just don't understand how moral stuff works in America. If with a warrant to search a house one is forced to let the police in, eventually things might be seized, why someone letting the police in a phone should be any different? Phones, computer or whatever. A judge warrant is a warrant.
The issue is the 5th amendment in the bill of rights, which basically says you can't be forced to testify against yourself. (That includes providing password to your devices and/or accounts) Just because someone has a warrant to search your house for physical evidence, doesn't mean they have a warrant to search you brain for thoughts and memories.

Take for example an off-shore bank account. With a search warrant for your house, they can't put you in front of your computer and force you to log into your bank's website. Instead they would also need to get a warrant for the bank and get your records that way. (although, depending on the country, the bank isn't required to comply)

However, now that our physical bodies are our passwords (fingers/faces), it is an area of the law that should be defined better. Is forcing someone to look into their Face ID camera or put their finger on a Touch ID scanner considered forcing them to testify against themselves? If so, and I believe it is, it is unconstitutional.
 

PBG4 Dude

macrumors 68030
Jul 6, 2007
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Huh ? How's even possible for such a rule to exist ? We're talking about two different methods to access the same device/information. Under which logic only one of the two methods is protected by law against self-incrimination and not the other ? So, if one uses passcode is entitled to deny to unlock his/her device but in any other case government has the right to demand to a person to self-incriminate ?
You can’t hide your fingerprint/face. Therefore it is not covered under the fifth amendment. Passcodes have to be pulled from memory, which violates fifth amendment rights against self-incrimination. It’s why you have 5-click biometric unlock bypass in iOS now. Five clicks of the power button and a passcode must be entered. Said passcode is protected by fifth amendment privileges.
 

Abazigal

macrumors G5
Jul 18, 2011
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Singapore
I guess people better start learning how to disable Face ID on their phones then (by pressing power and volume buttons). To me, it has always been the inevitable trade off between security and convenience. No doubt a fingerprint or face scanner is way more convenient than keying in a code or password, and I believe that the pros will still outweigh the cons for most users who won’t find themselves in trouble with the law.
 

mazz0

macrumors 68000
Mar 23, 2011
1,907
1,140
Leeds, UK
Basically this is why you shouldn't ever use Face ID or Touch ID or Windows Hello or anything like that if you care about security (and also why all the governments are so happy about these new "security" measures)

If you just have a strong password, it will take the government quite a bit of effort to crack it, interrogations etc, which obviously will require a lot of permissions and pushing the law.

On the other hand, forcing you to place your finger on a scanner? Or scanning your face? That hardly takes anything and it's pretty hard to argue against your rights being violated since there were no force or interrogation techniques applied.
Yeah, I thought that. If you're going to have incriminating evidence on your phone turn off FaceID and set a good, complex password. Criminals can be so stupid.
 

antonis

macrumors 68020
Jun 10, 2011
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You can’t hide your fingerprint/face. Therefore it is not covered under the fifth amendment. Passcodes have to be pulled from memory, which violates fifth amendment rights against self-incrimination. It’s why you have 5-click biometric unlock bypass in iOS now. Five clicks of the power button and a passcode must be entered. Said passcode is protected by fifth amendment privileges.
Well, it seems they can unlock the device anyway with 3rd party unlockers so, thinking about it a second time, I guess it doesn't really matter.
 
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mazz0

macrumors 68000
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Is there a way to get your phone to lock without triggering an emergency call (I know you can cancel it, but it still makes the noise)?
 
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Andronicus

macrumors 6502a
Apr 1, 2008
726
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Isn’t there a way to push the volume and or power button in a certain combination that it will disable Face ID and require you to enter your passcode to unlock? I think I remember reading something about that.
 
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alphaod

macrumors Core
Feb 9, 2008
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The guys own fault. Well unless the guy didn't actually cooperate but was beaten with a stick until he said yes?


(Not commenting on what the guy did or didn't do about child pornography; that's none of my business)
 
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PBG4 Dude

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Well, it seems they can unlock the device anyway with 3rd party unlockers so, thinking about it a second time, I guess it doesn't really matter.
No one said the police couldn’t employ a safe cracker to open a safe. Same thing with iPhone I guess.
 
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velocityg4

macrumors 601
Dec 19, 2004
4,975
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This got me to thinking. Why doesn't Apple add an option for an emergency wipe password? That way if someone is making you give up the pin to an iPhone. You can give them the wipe pin. Then the phone will immediately wipe the encryption key, perform a crash reboot to immediately clear the RAM then start the factory reset process.

____________________________________

As for this case. If guilty, hopefully the guy rots in jail. I don't see why anyone would see using a face or fingerprint to unlock a phone would be any different than any other warrant using your body to obtain evidence. Matching fingerprints, DNA, facial recognition with witnesses and surveillance and so forth. It' novel for now but will be common.

The difference between a password and face id/fingerprint unlocking is to due with the method. You can't be forced to give a password because you can't be forced to relinquish any knowledge that incriminates yourself. You're face, prints, DNA, &c are not knowledge. They are just a part of your person. You're person can be searched with a warrant.

Person 4th amendment protection
Knowledge (Self Incrimination) 5th amendment protection
 
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