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Police can now use 'cloned' fingerprints to unlock a cellphone

Police are always searching for more ways to obtain information after a crime has occurred. They may visually search a home or a vehicle for clues, run chemical tests for drugs or ballistic tests on slugs and use a wide variety of other means of gathering information they may find useful for their investigation.

For criminal investigations, they must adhere to the standards set forth in the U.S. and Michigan Constitutions, and the numerous court decisions interpreting those laws. They also must deal with ever changing technology and the laws that govern those searches. Wiretapping once was relatively simple, with the assistance of the phone company, they could tap virtually any phone. The advent of digital cellphones has made that operation much more complex.

Sometimes the technology can prevent easy access to information, as with cellphones protected by passwords or biometrics like fingerprint readers. The recent shooting in San Bernardino and the difficulty of the FBI in gaining access to the contents of the phone highlights this problem.

However, a recent case from Michigan demonstrates that technology can both help as well as hinder in this type of investigation. Police were attempting to access a murder victim's phone, which was protected by a fingerprint reader. They managed to clone all of his fingerprints and develop 2D and 3D copies. Through trial and error, they eventually were able to unlock the cellphone.

It is likely that this will lead to changes in how manufacturers implement these readers. Whether such methods could be used against a criminal defendant's cellphone are unclear, but given the vast amount of potentially incriminating personal information contained on most individuals' cellphones, it is likely that law enforcement will attempt to use this type technology if they want access to that information.



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