Florida police attempt to use dead man's finger to unlock his smartphone

Posted:
in iPhone edited April 23
Florida police have reportedly attempted to unlock a dead man's smartphone using his fingerprint, an act that reflects an ethical dilemma for the modern age concerning biometric security for mobile devices.

iPhone TouchID unlocks ethical questions


Linus F. Phillip died in March; according to the Tampa Bay Times, he was shot by police while attempting to flee a Wawa gas station in Largo, Fla. A WFLA account of the incident stated that the officer fired the fatal shots while Phillip was attempting to drag him with his car.

Not long after the death, police showed up at the funeral home where the body of Phillip was taken, and attempted to use the dead man's finger to unlock the device. The attempts were unsuccessful.

The Times story says the purpose of the unlocking was to obtain data in relation to the investigation into the 30-year-old Phillip's death, as well as for "a separate inquiry into drugs."

None of the reporting concerning the case states what type of smartphone is at issue. The iPhone is the most widely-adopted phone that features fingerprint-unlocking technology, but others on the market do offer similar biometric security, including models from Google's Pixel and Samsung's Galaxy lines.

Touch ID allows for five unsuccessful fingerprint match attempts before requiring the use of a password, while Android devices have their own limitations regarding the number of available attempts. It is also unknown if there was a problem in attempting to read the fingerprint, or if too much time had passed before the attempts were made and the device demanded a passcode.

"So disrespected and violated"

Phillip's family is unhappy that the police took this step. Fiancé Victoria Armstrong, who was at the funeral home when police arrived, told the newspaper that she "just felt so disrespected and violated."

Using the body of a deceased person to unlock a phone may be considered ghoulish, even if it doesn't happen with their surviving relatives present -- and even if it's not done by the same law enforcement entity that was involved in the person's death. Even so, new as these legal questions about the practice are, the practice is almost certainly legal.

Unlocking precedent

Legal experts agree that a warrant is not needed in the event that the subject is deceased, but the ethics of the situation are another matter. These issues have repeatedly come up ever since this type of technology was first introduced.

The most famous case is that of the San Bernardino terrorist attack in 2015. That case didn't involve using a corpse's fingerprint, but it did entail the FBI seeking Apple's help in unlocking an iPhone belonging to one of the accused attackers. The bureau ultimately failed to force Apple's assistance in the matter, but did gain access to the device using a third-party unlock procedure.

More recently, the FBI in late 2016 attempted to unlock an iPhone 5s belonging to Ohio State University attacker Abdul Razak Ali Artan. It's unclear whether law enforcement has ever attempted to use the iPhone X's Face ID technology in this manner.

A relatively inexpensive iPhone-unlocking tool called GrayKey is currently in use by police departments nationwide as well as various departments of the federal government. Another company called Cellebrite offers similar promises to gain access to files stored on an iPhone.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 35
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 29,902member
    Florida:  Second biggest collection of trash in the world, after the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
    gutengelronnanantksundarambshank
  • Reply 2 of 35
    That is why Apple has 24 hrs time period build into iOS, after which a pass code needs to be used for unlocking.
    edited April 23 ronnbb-15
  • Reply 3 of 35
    MacProMacPro Posts: 17,586member
    Florida:  Second biggest collection of trash in the world, after the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
    Bit of a sweeping generalization IMHO.  Of course there is a mansion on the other coast of Florida from where I am that might fit that description. 
    peterhartairnerdroundaboutnowtokyojimuMplsP
  • Reply 4 of 35
    MacProMacPro Posts: 17,586member
    I can see the legal issue is complex but 'ghoulish' is a stretch when you consider many diseased persons have autopsies performed.  I'd rate having my brain weighed higher on that scale than placing my cold finger on my iPhone to be honest.  Maybe that's just me.
    SoliMplsP
  • Reply 5 of 35
    jbdragonjbdragon Posts: 1,865member
    MacPro said:
    Florida:  Second biggest collection of trash in the world, after the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
    Bit of a sweeping generalization IMHO.  Of course there is a mansion on the other coast of Florida from where I am that might fit that description. 
    I wouldn't consider your shack a mansion.
    SpamSandwichtylersdad
  • Reply 6 of 35
    buzdotsbuzdots Posts: 445member
    Florida:  Second biggest collection of trash in the world, after the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
    Come on now, there are a lot of good, honest, hard-working folks in Florida. Of course not as many as there used to be... If they had finished the Cross Florida Barge Canal, the bad part may have broken off by now - kinda like CA and San Andreas should.
    SpamSandwichanton zuykov
  • Reply 7 of 35
    buzdotsbuzdots Posts: 445member
    Back on topic... Cops probably didn't guess that 'ol Linus was left handed.
    SpamSandwichGG1bshank
  • Reply 8 of 35
    MacProMacPro Posts: 17,586member
    jbdragon said:
    MacPro said:
    Florida:  Second biggest collection of trash in the world, after the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
    Bit of a sweeping generalization IMHO.  Of course there is a mansion on the other coast of Florida from where I am that might fit that description. 
    I wouldn't consider your shack a mansion.
    That doesn't make any logical sense based upon on what I wrote. 
  • Reply 9 of 35
    bloggerblogbloggerblog Posts: 1,780member
    A cop shoots a civilian. 
    There’s a story of what happened. 
    The cops want to gain access to the victims  device. 

    That device may contain evidence of the event.
    Cops have a reputation of ganging up and defending each other at any cost. 
    Could that have been an attempt to erase any evidence of what happened. Could his phone contain photos, audio, or video. 
    ronn
  • Reply 10 of 35
    MacProMacPro Posts: 17,586member

    buzdots said:
    Back on topic... Cops probably didn't guess that 'ol Linus was left handed.
    Yes back on topic ...  Ah but you can train several fingers ;). I admit I suspected (but could be wrong) Apple have built in the ability to distinguish a finger attached to a live body from basically in this case, an inanimate object.  Else a wax impression would work.
  • Reply 11 of 35
    MacPro said:

    buzdots said:
    Back on topic... Cops probably didn't guess that 'ol Linus was left handed.
    Yes back on topic ...  Ah but you can train several fingers ;). I admit I suspected (but could be wrong) Apple have built in the ability to distinguish a finger attached to a live body from basically in this case, an inanimate object.  Else a wax impression would work.
    As it's a capacitive sensor, it wouldn't work with a dead body/finger. Hook the body up to a car battery however and I'm not so sure :p
  • Reply 12 of 35
    focherfocher Posts: 625member
    There no legal question here. The right to privacy has been clearly established as ending at death.

    Of course, the real story is cops shooting yet another black person for fleeing. I'm not sure when it happened, but too many people just accept the use of deadly force against a fleeing suspect for a non-violent crime.
    StrangeDayshcrefugeeronncornchip
  • Reply 13 of 35
    badmonkbadmonk Posts: 718member
    New police procedure:

    1. shoot suspect

    2. unlock suspect’s iPhone

    3. read Miranda rights

    The only thing surprising about this story is that Uber wasn’t involved.


    randominternetpersonronn
  • Reply 14 of 35
    eightzeroeightzero Posts: 2,159member
    focher said:
    There no legal question here. The right to privacy has been clearly established as ending at death.

    Have a citation for that, please? TIA.
  • Reply 15 of 35
    eightzeroeightzero Posts: 2,159member
    Well...did it work? 
  • Reply 16 of 35
    SoliSoli Posts: 8,288member
    eightzero said:
    Well...did it work? 
    "Not long after the death, police showed up at the funeral home where the body of Phillip was taken, and attempted to use the dead man's finger to unlock the device. The attempts were unsuccessful."
    anantksundaram
  • Reply 17 of 35
    focher said:
    There no legal question here. The right to privacy has been clearly established as ending at death.

    Of course, the real story is cops shooting yet another black person for fleeing. I'm not sure when it happened, but too many people just accept the use of deadly force against a fleeing suspect for a non-violent crime.
    I thought he was shot while attempting to drag a cop out of his car.

    upd. After reading some more from a different source....

    http://www.wfla.com/news/pinellas-county/police-largo-officer-shot-killed-suspect-while-being-dragged-by-car/1080587939
    Officers tried to detain Phillip, but he jumped into the driver's seat and started to drive away.
    Officer Steiner was trapped halfway in the car as Phillip put the vehicle in reverse and accelerated.  The driver's door was open and concrete posts were nearby.
    Officer Ables was able to move away from vehicle, but Officer Steiner was dragged.
    "As it accelerated backwards, Officer Steiner attempted to defend himself and fired four shots, which all struck the suspect.
    Sorry, that is not just "suspect fleeing on foot" type of a situation.
    If the guy was running away and a cop shot him in the back, I would have agreed with you, but this clearly not the case here.
    The deceased was being stupid, smoked weed in the car, tried to get away from the cops and due to the decisions he made, he is now dead.
    edited April 23 cornchip
  • Reply 18 of 35
    SoliSoli Posts: 8,288member
    eightzero said:
    focher said:
    There no legal question here. The right to privacy has been clearly established as ending at death.

    Have a citation for that, please? TIA.
    As is typical with gov'ts, the answer is usually a "yes and no."

  • Reply 19 of 35
    eightzero said:
    focher said:
    There no legal question here. The right to privacy has been clearly established as ending at death.

    Have a citation for that, please? TIA.
    Here's a citation for exactly the opposite conclusion, coming from the Florida Supreme Court last year.

    https://iapp.org/news/a/florida-court-rules-right-to-privacy-still-intact-after-death/

    ronnanantksundaramcornchip
  • Reply 20 of 35
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 4,245member
    eightzero said:
    focher said:
    There no legal question here. The right to privacy has been clearly established as ending at death.

    Have a citation for that, randominternetperson said:
    eightzero said:
    focher said:
    There no legal question here. The right to privacy has been clearly established as ending at death.

    Have a citation for that, please? TIA.
    Here's a citation for exactly the opposite conclusion, coming from the Florida Supreme Court last year.

    https://iapp.org/news/a/florida-court-rules-right-to-privacy-still-intact-after-death/


    That court case was a judgement to "extend" the right of privacy for the widow due to a court case that was going on at the time.  It was not a sweeping, all-inclusive right to everyone.  Not the same thing.

    There's plenty of write-ups out there that seems to have the general agreement that a deceased individual does not have a right to privacy.
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