Science and Tech


Police Can Ask To Unlock Your Phone — This Feature Could Stop Them

The "cop button" feature discreetly disables Touch ID.
Posted at 6:11 PM, Aug 17, 2017

Apple is adding a new feature to the iPhone — and it might add to the struggle between law enforcement and tech companies.

Available in the iOS 11 public beta, the new feature — activated by clicking the power button five times — would allow users to trigger an Emergency SOS, as well as discreetly disable Touch ID.

Apple hasn't said anything about the new feature, but referring to issues surrounding privacy and law enforcement, The Verge called the new feature a "cop button." 

In 2014, a Virginia judge ruled police can't force suspects to give up their cellphone passwords, but with a warrant, they can force them to unlock their phones using the fingerprint scanner.

This power was first used in 2016 in a case involving identity theft. 

Even if a finger isn't available, law enforcement officials have found other methods to access devices. Last summer, police in Michigan used 3-D printing to print out a fingerprint of a murder victim. The person's body was reportedly "too decayed" to use. 

Since then, this power has also been used by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. 

In January, NASA scientist Sidd Bikkannavar was detained by U.S. Border Patrol after traveling from Chile. He had his NASA-issued smartphone unlocked and searched by CBP agents. 

The same happened weeks later to artist and activist Aaron Gach. The American Civil Liberties Union issued an administrative complaint, arguing the search violated the Fourth Amendment. Other advocacy groups have told travelers to disable the fingerprint feature completely.