FBI Compels Child Porn Suspect to Unlock iPhone with Face ID

The first case has emerged of police compelling a criminal suspect to unlock their iPhone X using Face ID, Apple’s infrared facial recognition system.

As Forbes‘ Thomas Brewster reports, the case has emerged from Columbus, Ohio, where FBI investigators ordered a man suspected of trafficking in child pornography to unlock his iPhone with a face scan. The suspect complied, allowing the investigators to retrieve data of interest including chat messages concerning the sexual abuse of minors.

The FBI agents had a warrant for the investigation, and the suspect complied willingly; indeed, Apple claims that a gaze awareness feature built into Face ID should prevent anyone from being physically forced to unlock their iPhone with a face scan. Speaking to Forbes, the suspect’s lawyer, Steven Nolder, suggested that police appear to have developed ‘boilerplate language’ for warrants allowing them to compel access to iPhones via Face ID as well as Touch ID, the fingerprint scanning system used on older iPhone models.

Reports suggest that police now routinely use dead individuals’ fingerprints to unlock their devices when it’s called for in a given investigation, but there is an ongoing debate about whether compelling suspects to unlock smartphones contravenes their Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination. Suspects cannot be forced to reveal passwords to their computers, for example; but fingerprints and facial biometrics are not currently widely considered within the category of information protected under the Fifth Amendment.

Source: Forbes