“…newer iPhones are designed to require a passcode after five unsuccessful unlock attempts using Face ID, the facial recognition system that allows iPhone users to unlock their devices just by looking at them.”
At least one forensics consultant is advising police to avoid looking at a criminal suspect’s iPhone X, in case they need to compel the suspect to unlock the device later, according to a new Motherboard report.
Motherboard obtained a presentation slide from the consultant, Elcomsoft, in which text bluntly advises investigators, “don’t look at the screen,” because it could risk prompting the iPhone X – and Apple’s latest face-scanning smartphones – to revert to a passcode lock. That’s because the newer iPhones are designed to require a passcode after five unsuccessful unlock attempts using Face ID, the facial recognition system that allows iPhone users to unlock their devices just by looking at them.
Passcodes are a problem for investigators in the US because of the criminal suspects’ Fifth Amendment right to protection against self-incrimination. The idea is that suspects can’t be compelled to reveal information that would incriminate them, and a passcode, by enabling police to unlock their phones, is considered to be that kind of information. Biometrics meanwhile, are generally understood in US courts to be a physical body part, rather than information, and thus aren’t entitled to the same Fifth Amendment protection.
It is, of course, absurd that this philosophical distinction essentially means that whether police are allowed to access a suspect’s phone depends on its make and model, but this is where the rapid evolution of biometric technology on consumer devices has taken us. And so now, police are evidently being trained to recognize certain kinds of phones, and to act accordingly, with Elcomsoft not only advising police not to look at newer iPhones, but also telling them, “DO NOT PUSH THE HOME BUTTON” on devices with Touch ID, the fingerprint scanning system on older iPhones – again because the this could eliminate one of their five unlock attempts before the passcode is triggered.