Anil Jain, a computer science professor at Michigan State University who works on biometric security like facial recognition and fingerprint scanners was asked to help the police to bypass the fingerprint security of a murder’s victim phone. His task was to create a 3D printed finger with an identical print to the one the victim used to encrypt his phone.
Although the professor’s job is to develop better security and not to find ways to circumvent it, he agreed to help stating:
“If we can assist law enforcement that’s certainly a good service we can do.”
The Michigan police was able to find Professor Jain thanks to a YouTube video he previously uploaded to show how someone can unlock a phone with just a 2D printed fingerprint. The police wanted access to a murder victim’s phone that used an upgraded type of fingerprint security, in hopes of finding information that might lead to the capture of the criminal. More details on the case are not available as it is an ongoing criminal investigation.
Unfortunately for the police, they could not use the victim’s actual fingers to unlock the phone. They were too decayed for a fingerprint to be directly applied but the police had them on file as the victim was previously arrested. The solution they came up with is asking the professor to create a 3D printed finger which could replicate the original one.
One of the obstacles they had to overcome was to determine which finger the victim used to unlock the phone. Most people use their index finger, but fortunately for the police they had all the fingerprints. Another obstacle was more technical in nature since current touch sensors are capacitive and need skin to interface with it. Jain’s solution was to cover the 3D printed finger with a thin layer of metallic particles to imitate real live skin.
This type of measure that can circumvent security, even for a deceased person, is legally controversial. Bryan Choi, a security and law researcher, stated that:
“The Fifth Amendment protects against self-incrimination. Here, the fingerprints are of the deceased victim, not the murder suspect. Obviously, the victim is not at risk of incrimination.”
Since the highly disputed San Bernardino case earlier this year, various methods used by the police to unlock phones have been heavily scrutinized. In response, Apple introduced in May an additional security measure that requires a passcode if the fingerprint unlock hasn’t been used in a certain time.
Should police be allowed to unlock deceased people’s phones if it will help them solve crimes? Are you using the fingerprint security measure?
Image source: Wikipedia