FBI agents have forced a man to unlock his iPhone using the device's built-in facial biometric unlocking system, Face ID, in a first for this particular mechanism.
In Columbus, Ohio, sometime in August, federal agents obtained a warrant to search the 28 year-old Grant Michalski's house as part of an ongoing child-abuse investigation. In the process, the FBI forced Michalski's face in front of his iPhone X in order to use his facial biometrics to unlock the device. Shortly after, evidence was discovered in his chat history and photos of his possession of child pornography. The FBI was eventually locked out of the device, however, and had to rely on third-party unlocking mechanisms, such as GrayKey, to gain further access into the device.
This wouldn't be the first time a device has been accessed by the law by unofficial means - in 2016, Michigan police personnel requested a 3D-printed replica of a dead man's finger in order to unlock his iPhone via its Touch ID mechanism. All of this is arguably easier than trying to gain a backdoor into an iOS device, if Apple's stance on this in 2016 is anything to go by.
U.S. law dictates that its forcing of someone to enter their own password into a device is interpreted as self-incrimination, which is illegal under the Fifth Amendment. Courts have ruled that in specific cases, a distinction can be made between passwords and biometric unlocking systems, in indirect response to which Apple introduced a Touch ID kill switch to disable it until the phone is unlocked via its passcode.
This particular case is likely to resurface privacy concerns regarding the apparently illicit utilization of personal biometric tech by the law. Despite Michalski's crime being a grievous one, his forced unlocking of his device sets a rather contentious precedent for similar such scenarios in the future.