In what is believe to be the first time, the FBI has forced a suspect to unlock his phone using Face ID. The case involved Grant Michalski in Columbus, Ohio during an investigation into child abuse. Forbes reports that during the investigation, the FBI required Michalski to unlock his iPhone X using Face ID by looking at his phone. The result of this and a search of his phone led to charges for sending and receiving child pornography.
The requirement of a suspect to unlock their phone, either by fingerprint or facial recognition is legal but remains a sensitive subject for both consumers and tech companies like Apple.
Apple, for their part, have put multiple safeguards in place for iPhones where they are locked, not allowing them to be unlocked without a fingerprint or PIN. Law enforcement has worked with companies like Cellebrite or Grayshift, which has technology to get around these safeguards, to get into suspects phones.
The question in this case, and with previous cases where Touch ID was used to unlock an iPhone, is how long it will remain legal. The current laws that are behind the times and many scholars question if forcing a suspect to unlock his or her phone is a violation of their 5th Amendment rights. That amendment protects US citizens against self incrimination.
The other side of this is that law enforcement in many cases needs to get into a suspect’s phone in order to have a complete case against them. This is particularly true in cases like this one or in terrorist cases.