The iPhone X’s Controversial New Feature

By: Melissa Goldstein

In honor of the iPhone’s tenth anniversary, Apple will be releasing the iPhone X. One of its new features, known as FaceID or facial recognition, allows users to unlock their phones just by staring into the camera. The iPhone creates a 3D map of a person’s face by using sensors, the front camera, and a dot projector. Every time people use their face to open their phone, 30,000 infrared dots are projected onto their face. The map of the user’s face becomes more and more detailed with every use.

Three-dimensional facial recognition sounds very high tech and exciting, but it is sparking some controversy in the legal world. Law enforcement is concerned that FaceID will make it harder for them to collect important data in crime investigations. On the other side, some consumers are concerned that law enforcement will use this feature to take advantage of a citizen’s Fifth Amendment rights.

An article in Washington’s Top News discusses that investigators in Maryland’s digital forensic labs are already bogged down and backed up with all of the evidence they have to sort through on iPhones. Law enforcement is concerned that the facial recognition technology could impose a delay on unlocking an iPhone in the first place. The iPhone’s older models, the iPhone 6 and iPhone 7, are already nearly impossible to crack. Essentially, there is a big concern that the longer it takes to unlock an iPhone, the longer it could take to catch dangerous criminals.

On the flip side, consumers have their own worries that facial recognition could lead to law enforcement taking advantage of them. A law professor at the University of Oregon, Carrie Leonetti, says that FaceID and the current TouchID have less of a constitutional protection than older methods. When the only method of security was a four-digit passcode a person could rely on his or her Fifth Amendment privilege and simply not say the passcode. However, Jim Dempsey, ?executive director at UC Berkeley’s Center for Law & Technology, believes that police officers will still need a search warrant to make an iPhone owner unlock the phone using the FaceID feature. In 2014 the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to search cellphones without a warrant. Dempsey believes that this ruling from Riley v. California will also apply to the FaceID feature.

Apple’s FaceID technology does however include ways to prevent the phone owners face from unlocking the phone. When pressing the power button five times in a row, the phone will go into “SOS mode” and FaceID will be disabled. Also, the facial recognition will only unlock the phone if the user’s eyes are open and staring into the camera. It will be interesting to see how this new feature affects the legal world once the new iPhone is released in November.

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