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Police Warned Not to Look at iPhones

Paul Rubens - October 15, 2018 - 07:48 AM
Police Warned Not to Look at iPhones
Law enforcement officials can inadvertently use up Face ID unlock attempts by looking at a suspect's phone.

(CCM) — Police in the U.S. have been advised to avoid looking at the screens of suspects' iPhone X and iPhone XS handsets which include Apple's Face ID facial recognition technology.


The advice comes from a digital forensics company called Elcomsoft which has been providing training to police investigators, according to a Motherboard report.

The thinking behind the advice is that law enforcement officials can use Face ID to unlock a suspect's phone by placing the screen in front of the suspect's face. But after five failed unlock attempts using Face ID the device's passcode is required to unlock the phone, and every time an officer looks at the screen one of those Face ID attempts may be used up.

In the U.S., courts can force suspects to unlock their devices with their face (or fingerprints) but they cannot be forced to divulge their passcodes, on the grounds that they may incriminate themselves.

One of Elcomsoft's training slides warns law enforcement officials: "iPhone X: don't look at the screen, or else… The same thing will occur as happened at Apple's event." This refers to Apple's 2017 Face ID presentation when Craig Federighi, Apple's software engineering senior vice president, failed to unlock a handset using Face ID because the phone had already been looked at multiple times by staff who were helping to organize the event.

Image: © Apple.
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