People Are Scared The Police Will Use iPhone X's Face ID For Arrests

by Collette Reitz
Justin Sullivan / Staff / Getty Images

As you come down from the information overload following the announcement of the Nov. 3 release of the highly-anticipated iPhone X, you have some time to kill before can get your hands on the newest smartphone. Some people are spending that time asking questions about how the newest features in the latest iPhone will affect their daily lives. Apple abandoned Touch ID in favor of facial recognition technology, and now people are wondering if the police can use iPhone X's Face ID to get into your phone without permission.

When you purchase the iPhone X, the phone will learn to recognize its owner by using a 3-D map that consists of more than 30,000 infrared dots that project onto the owner's face. The phone will only unlock when the owner's face is looking straight at the iPhone X. According to The Atlantic, Apple also reassures future iPhone X owners that the phone's technology cannot be fooled by replicas of your face -- like photos or masks.

So, once you've begun unlocking your new iPhone X with its Face ID, are there instances where you might actually unlock your phone against your will? That is the big question on people's minds, especially when it comes to wondering if police can get into your phone by making you unlock it without your permission by just holding it up to your face.

According to The Verge, the first piece of good news is that your eyes need to be open in order for the technology to unlock your device. So, as long as you keep your eyes shut, you're set. But if you do happen to open your eyes, The Verge also reports that the phone can unlock quickly once your eyes are open -- even if the camera is not perfectly in line with your face.

You are also protected by the fact that the officer would have to at least have a search warrant to make such an action legal and permissible in court, as Nate Cardozo, a staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, relayed to The Daily Dot. Other specific legal protections get a little fuzzy when it comes to the Fifth Amendment.

According to The Atlantic, similar questions arose when Touch ID was first introduced on the iPhone. Some cases involving Touch ID have had warrants issued to request a fingerprint to unlock a phone. The Fifth Amendment protects your right to not incriminate yourself, and that includes not having to give police information that you know, like the passcode for your phone. The trouble with Touch ID and Face ID is that your fingerprint and facial structure are not things that you know -- they're considered to be things that you are. Physical attributes are usually found to be outside of the realm of protections that the Fifth Amendment provides.

The argument against this lack of protection revolves around the properties of what's called biometric authentication -- the fancy name for Touch ID and Face ID. The case is made by saying that when you use a physical attribute in order to unlock a device, it's not just something that you are. Its utilization to unlock a device should be enough to change how it is protected under the law. The Atlantic learned from Albert Gidari, the director of privacy at Stanford University's Center for Internet and Society, that there is a message being communicated by your fingerprint when you use it to unlock your phone, and that message should be protected under the law just the same as a passcode -- the same goes for how your face will interact with Face ID.

Until Face ID technology is released, it's difficult to know exactly how it will interact with the law. The good thing to know is that you can always opt out of the Face ID feature altogether and avoid any chance of unwillingly unlocking your phone. As technology evolves, though, there is a good chance that the argument for Fifth Amendment protection for biometric authentication will be studied more closely.