'SOS' feature in iOS 11 protects user data by forcing passcode entry, disabling Touch ID

in iPhone edited August 2017
Apple's "SOS" feature in iOS 11 automatically disables Touch ID with a few quick presses of a device's power button, a new function designed to greatly enhance user privacy in times of distress.

Set for introduction with iOS 11 this fall, "SOS" offers users quick and easy access to vital services. Pressing the power button five times in quick succession brings up onscreen sliders to trigger a call to emergency services, or "911," or access emergency contacts from Medical ID.

It should be noted that Medical ID will not appear in "SOS" unless users fill out the necessary form in the Health app.

"SOS" also gives users the option of powering down their device, while a cancel button acts as the sole means of exiting the UI. As noted in a Twitter discussion on Thursday, the latter function also disables Touch ID, requiring entry of a predetermined passcode or passphrase to gain access to a protected device. The device remains locked until the proper password is entered.

The feature could protect against unwarranted, and unwelcome, device access. When activated, "SOS" prevents muggers, thieves or other ne'er-do-wells from physically forcing a user's finger onto Touch ID. Device owners might still be coerced to provide passcode details under duress, but they would at least have some choice in the matter.

Perhaps more interesting are the potential implications to law enforcement operations. There are many documented cases in which law enforcement agencies or federal courts have compelled criminal suspects to unlock their iPhone with a fingerprint, an act not protected by U.S. law. Entering a passcode or passphrase, on the other hand, requires use of a "mental process" that could be construed as a violation of Fifth Amendment rights.

Apple is due to release iOS 11 alongside a slate of new iPhone hardware this fall. The next-generation operating system features a host of new features and functions including a refreshed user interface with updated Control Center and 3D Touch support, person-to-person Apple Pay transfers, AirPlay 2, ARKit, a new Files app and much more.


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