Earlier this month, the first known case where law enforcement required a suspect to unlock their phone using Face ID was brought to light. Now it’s being reported that cops around the United States are actually receiving instructions to not look at the iPhone displays themselves, as that could count as one of the false trials, which would then disable Face ID. Of course, if this is beneficial if it’s your phone that the police are trying to get into. But a feature on the iPhone X and XS will only try up to five times to recognize your face before it locks and then requires a passcode to access. This becomes an issue for law enforcement when they look at the display and accidentally waste one of those five attempts.
The report explains that a presentation from the forensics company Elcomsoft is being shown to police and investigators, which highlights the issue and warns cops to not even look at the screen. In fact, they poke fun at Apple a bit and say that if you do, what happened during the Apple event, will happen to them. If you don’t remember the incident back in 2017, but too many people were trying to get into the same iPhone X, and it ended up locking them out. Everyone was giving Apple a hard time about this, and you can kind of see why. In fact, during that demonstration, after getting locked out Craig Federighi was promoted to enter the passcode on stage. Of course, defeating the purpose of Face ID to begin with.
Elcomsoft CEO Vladimi Katalov explained that this is quite a simple theory:
“This is quite simple. Passcode is required after five unsuccessful attempts to match a face,” Vladimi Katalov, CEO of Elcomsoft, told Motherboard in an online chat, pointing to Apple’s own documentation on Face ID. “So by looking into suspect’s phone, [the] investigator immediately lose one of [the] attempts.”
But this isn’t the first time that law enforcement has been guided to avoid locking an iPhone’s biometric feature. With Touch ID, for example, law enforcement was instructed to always used the power button to turn a device on – not the Home button. He went on to say:
“With Touch ID, you have to press the button (or at least touch it); that’s why we always recommend (on our trainings) to use the power button instead, e.g to see whether the phone is locked. But with Face ID, it is easier to use ‘accidentally’ by simply looking at the phone,”
Which makes you wonder how effective Face ID is in the first place? For the last year, there have been many reports which indicate that people haven’t been able to use Face ID on their own phones, so they opt to use the fingerprint or passcode option. So is Face ID really the way to go? The idea of the technology is great, and if it would work effectively all the time, then yes – its something that we should have. But if its marginalizing certain races (for example) who have a hard time using it, then I don’t think it should be an option. That said, law enforcement is being told not to stick their noses to the phones, to prevent them from getting locked out.