With the news of the Facebook scandal dominating the news, people are more aware then ever before about privacy and how their data is being used. It appears that after you die, your information is fair game for the police, as they are using dead people’s fingerprints to access their phones.
With Touch ID and, more recently, FaceID, people are often under the impression that their devices are safe from prying eyes, but it appears as if police have the ability to unlock and access phones of the deceased without a warrant – and they’re using dead people’s fingerprints to do so.
Questions regarding the rights of the deceased have been discussed for quite some time, and Forbes interviewed FBI forensics specialist Bob Moledor regarding the need to get into phones and not having access to the passcode – a major problem for law enforcement professionals as they work to solve crimes and collect evidence from the personal effects of those who have passed away.
While there may be some ethical issues to consider regarding using dead people’s fingerprints to access phones, Lawyer Marina Medvin states that it’s completely legal to do so. Once a person is passed away, they no longer have a privacy interest over their body and their personal effects – making unlocking the iPhone with dead people’s fingerprints fair game for law enforcement professionals.
Once you share information with someone, you lose control over how that information is protected and used. You cannot assert your privacy rights when your friend’s phone is searched and the police see the messages that you sent to your friend. Same goes for sharing information with the deceased – after you released information to the deceased, you have lost control of privacy,” Medvin added.
While unlocking phones using dead people’s fingerprints is a moral gray area, there are other more “official” ways in which law enforcement can unlock phones. Firms like Cellebrite or the US hacking outlet GrayShift offer professional services that don’t intrude on the bodies of the deceased by using the dead person’s fingerprints.
There’s a good amount of debate from both sides of the aisle as people try to figure out whether using dead people’s fingerprints is a reasonable method of obtaining the necessary information from a phone. It all comes down to whether people retain any rights after they pass away, and it appears that in the current legal arena, the deceased don’t have many rights at all.