As Apple continues to update its iPhones with new security features, law enforcement and other investigators are constantly playing catch-up, trying to find the best way to circumvent the protections or to grab evidence. Last month, Forbes reported the first known instance of a search warrant being used to unlock a suspect’s iPhone X with their own face, leveraging the iPhone X’s Face ID feature.
But Face ID can of course also work against law enforcement – too many failed attempts with the ‘wrong’ face can force the iPhone to request a potentially harder to obtain passcode instead. Taking advantage of legal differences in how passcodes are protected, US law enforcement have forced people to unlock their devices with not just their face but their fingerprints too. But still, in a set of presentation slides obtained by Motherboard this week, one company specialising in mobile forensics is telling investigators not to even look at phones with Face ID, because they might accidentally trigger this mechanism.
The security mechanisms on modern phones are complex legal problems for law enforcement, and one example in the article highlights just how far law enforcement is willing to go: UK police enacted a fake mugging to steal a suspect’s phone as he was using it, so it would be unlocked. The officers then proceeded to endlessly swipe so it wouldn’t lock itself.
Based on the examples you gave us I would argue that modern security mechanisms and the endless ambition of officers to crack them is posing a complex legal problem for us free citizens.