Skip to Content

Police use dead man’s finger to try to get into his iPhone

It is said that dead men tell no tales, and while that may be true, the same cannot be said for their fingerprints. Or, at least, a fingerprint could lead to a dead man’s tale being told.

Let’s explain how a move that seems as though it comes straight out of Hollywood is actually a tool for police.

The hope was that Abdul Razak Ali Artan’s iPhone would reveal clues into why he plowed his car into a gathering of people on Ohio State University’s campus before attacking victims with a butcher’s knife on Nov. 8, 2016. Thirteen people were injured before he was shot and killed by police.

Unfortunately for investigators, too much time had passed before they finally got legal permission to access the phone, and by the time they pressed fingerprint to iPhone, it had gone to sleep and a password was needed to unlock it.

Clever? Yes. It’s legal, too

Ultimately investigators were able to hack into Artan’s phone and gather the information they were seeking, but just because the dead man’s fingerprint did not work in this case does not mean it has not in others. In fact, it turns out it’s a fairly common tactic to try and get into phones that once belonged to someone who is now deceased.

It often comes up in overdose cases, as the phones could end up leading police to the drug dealer. It’s a little gross, fairly clever and totally legal.

After all, once you are dead, you no longer have a need for privacy or a way to argue for it in court. This could impact the living, too, as whatever has been sent to the deceased person’s phone is fair game for authorities.

According to the law, once information is shared with someone else, control is lost over how it is protected and used. That said, if police want to unlock a living person’s phone, they will need a warrant to procure the fingerprints.

Police know all of this, and it factors into how they go about investigating certain crimes. There are ways to unlock phones without the fingerprint or password, but they are rather expensive.

Coming soon to Face ID?

As innovative as Touch ID was when it first came out, the newest iPhones are relying on faces to unlock them. Though the technology is not yet widespread, if it becomes so, police will likely have an easier time getting into phones.

Supposedly the technology uses a combination of your face and eye movements, but tests have shown it can be tricked by using a photo with open eyes. They have also found that the ID will unlock from seeing the face from many different angles, leading to the possibility that it may only need one open eye for access.

Police are continually trying to take advantage of technology

It would not be possible without advancements in technology, but what the Raleigh Police Department has done raises plenty of questions. After all, should the police be able to access your cellphone even if you are not a suspect? Click here to learn more.

cryptocurrency e-book hero

New eBook: ‘Cryptocurrency 101’

Don't want to lose your dough to crypto? Check out my new eBook, "Cryptocurrency 101." I walk you through buying, selling, mining and more!

Check it out