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Apple's Face ID Raises New Questions About Privacy And Law

Posted by Steve Karimi | Sep 26, 2017 | 0 Comments

Cell phone technology is developing at a rapid pace with new devices and operating systems being created and released every year. One of the brands that has a highly anticipated product announcement each year is Apple. In September of every year, Apple reveals a number of new products including a new version of the iPhone. In 2017, the company announced two new iPhones that would be released and hit the market later this year, the iPhone 8 and the iPhone X.

The iPhone X has a new feature, facial recognition. This feature, called Face ID, will allow users to unlock their phone by using their face instead of entering a passcode or using a fingerprint. The Washington Post stated that the “technology uses several sensors to map the faces of users and stores the resulting data on the device itself, allowing users to later unlock the device or use the Apple Pay app [b]y merely glancing at it.” The Chicago Tribune stated that this feature is “incredibly convenient, one that could raise security across the board by helping to curb the use of weak passcodes such as ‘121212'.” However, this futuristic technology has also raised some serious privacy concerns. What happens if a person is arrested and law enforcement can simply unlock the individual's phone by holding it up to their face?

Currently, law enforcement cannot compel a defendant to give up their password. However, the Chicago Tribune reports that some courts have come to a different conclusion when it comes to Apple's fingerprint ID software, known as Touch ID. In certain circumstances, courts have determined that law enforcement can compel an individual to give a fingerprint. But they will need a warrant first as, in 2014 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Riley v. California that in order to search a cell phone, police needed to first obtain a warrant. The ABA Journal reported on one such case occurred in February 2016 when a federal magistrate judge in California issued a warrant that required a defendant “to provide the fingerprint needed to unlock the phone” that she had been using. The defendant was “a 29-year old Los Angeles woman who took a no-contest plea in an identity-theft case.”

While it remains to be seen what the courts decide concerning facial recognition technology, Apple did address some of the privacy and security concerns that have been expressed. Business Insider reported that, this week, the company released more information about the Face ID. It contended that the chance of fooling the Face ID “at random is 1 in 1 million.” According to the Guardian, “Apple has implemented a secondary system that exclusively looks out for attempts to fool the technology.” The device will look for “telltale signs of cheating.” However, the company notes that with certain individuals – namely twins, siblings, and children under 13 – there is a higher likelihood that a false positive could occur.

Technology has come a long way in a short amount of time and will continue to make developments in the years to come. As it becomes a bigger part of people's lives, more questions about technology and the law will inevitably arise. It will be interesting to see how questions like the privacy implications of the Face ID technology, are eventually answered.

About the Author

Steve Karimi

Steve Karimi attended Pepperdine University School of Law. After graduation he worked as a prosecutor in Seattle where he gained valuable insight to the criminal justice system. Attorney Karimi uses his experiences as a prosecutor everyday only now he fights for the justice of those accused.


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Named a "rising star" in criminal defense by Washington Law and Politics magazine, Mr. Karimi is a former prosecutor for King County who uses his insight into prosecution strategies to protect his clients' rights in criminal court.