Skip to main content
Find a Lawyer
Please enter a legal issue and/or a location
Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

Find a Lawyer

More Options

Police Fail to Unlock Phone With Dead Man's Finger

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

Florida police may have watched one too many sci-fi films when they tried to use a dead man's fingerprint to unlock his cell phone.

The deceased, Linus Phillips, was already at the morgue when investigators showed up with his cell phone. They suspected him in police-involved shooting, which obviously didn't end well for Phillips.

The fingerprint scan didn't work out for the police either. Apparently, they didn't know the line between fact and fiction.

Fingerprint ID

According to Newsweek, the police failed because they were too late. But they told reporters they arrived timely, saying typically they can unlock a cell phone with a fingerprint between 48 and 72 hours of the owner's death.

Authorities have known for years there are limits to the technique. In 2016, the FBI learned you can't just put a bloody finger on an iPhone and expect to gain access.

Since then, federal and state police agencies claim it is business as usual. In Michigan, police even used a 3D printer to make a murder victim's finger to unlock an iPhone. It didn't work because, well, it was fake.

"Involuntary biometric identification" may work all the time in the movies, but there are still hurdles in the real world. Privacy technology is one; privacy itself is another.

Privacy Issues?

Apple has drawn a deep line in the sand between government access and its data. After a mass shooting in California, the government demanded the company unlock an iPhone.

The company refused, and the government paid hackers $1 million to find another way to the information. In the meantime, police continue to use dead people's fingerprints to access their cell phones.

Authorities don't need search warrants either because, they say, dead people don't have privacy rights.

Related Resources:

Was this helpful?

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

Or contact an attorney near you:
Copied to clipboard