FBI forces suspect to unlock iPhone with Face ID

A U.S. federal investigator has forced a criminal suspect to unlock his iPhone X using Face ID after receiving a warrant from the District Court for the Southern District of Ohio’s Eastern Division, in the first known case of its kind anywhere in the world, Forbes reports.

The iPhone was seized when FBI agents carried out a search warrant at the suspect’s house in August. When it was eventually unlocked, it was found to contain evidence relevant to the investigation, including messages which discussed the abuse of minors. The investigator was not able to extract all of the data he sought from the device, as a passcode is required to connect the iPhone to a computer and transfer files if it has been locked for more than an hour.

The Columbus Police Department and the Ohio Bureau of Investigation both have access to technology that can extract data from locked iPhones, however, according to court documents. There are two companies known to have provided iPhone unlocking services this year, Forbes reports; Cellebrite, which may have unlocked the iPhone of the San Bernadino shooting suspect, and Grayshift.

The suspect has been charged with possession of child pornography, but his lawyer told Forbes that he will not challenge the legality of the use of Face ID in the warrant, as no contraband was found on the device. He also said that police appear to have developed boiler plate language to include in warrants to use biometrics as a method for unlocking devices.

Fred Jennings, a senior associate at Tor Ekeland Law says that the use of Face ID by law enforcement could potentially be challenged on Fifth Amendment grounds, as passwords have been included under the protection from self-incrimination. In the absence of legislation that makes clear whether biometrics are equivalent to passwords under the Fifth Amendment, Jennings believes the courts will have to decide.

Sources told Forbes that narcotics agents in New York have attempted unsuccessfully to unlock the iPhones of overdose victims with Face ID.

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