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 asked 28-year-old Grant Michalski to put his face in front of his iPhone X to activate the Face ID facial authentication.
Michalski is said to have cooperated, allowing investigators to look through 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.
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Tags: FBI, Face ID, law
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