In what may sound to be a first in the world, the FBI has forced a suspect to unlock his iPhone X using the popular Face ID feature. Agents in Columbus, Ohio had to enter the house of 28-year-old Grant Michalski. He was suspected of child abuse and according to court documents was spotted by Forbes. With a search warrant in hand, the agents forced him to put his face in front of the iPhone X to unlock it. They were then easily able to search for his chats, photos and other potential evidence.
The FBI had started investigating Michalski when they discovered his ad on Craigslist titled “taboo.” They later discovered emails in which he had discussed incest and sex with minors with another defendant, William Weekly. They also discussed sexual acts reportedly with an individual that Weekly shockingly identified in the emails as his daughter.
In earlier instances, the FBI have used suspects’ fingerprints to unlock phones, and even had tried to crack an iPhone by 3D-printing a person’s finger who was already dead. Authorities have thus far, without a fingerprint or face, been unable to obtain passwords, because even Apple does not have access to them.
Apple in this case has refused to create backdoors for law enforcement. It’s CEO Tim Cook says that it would compromise the security of all it’s users. That argument obviously has some merit, as hacking tools which were developed by the NSA were stolen by hackers.
However, that hasn’t certainly stopped third-party companies. Cellebrite, an Israeli firm created an unlocking device that may have been used by the FBI to unlock the San Bernardino killer’s Apple device. Another device which is called the GrayKey can reportedly unlock two iPhones at once in just about a couple of minutes.
Very surprisingly, using Face ID or other similar face recognition systems from Huawei and other device makers have not been used to unlock a suspect’s phone before. As such, it is not clear if it is even lawful to do so. Law enforcement agencies can certainly use someone’s face as evidence for witness identification, so using Face ID should also be under the laws.
In this particular case, agents were able to obtain only some and not all data by using the suspect’s Face ID as they were not able to keep the phone open long enough. Michalski’s lawyer, in any event told Forbes that the data may not even be necessary.