Feckless FBI unable to unlock iPhone, even with a ‘fingerprint unlock warrant’

“A judge recently took the controversial step of letting the FBI force a woman to unlock an iPhone with her fingerprints. But it didn’t work,” Jose Pagliery reports for CNNMoney. “CNNMoney has learned that the FBI was unable to open an iPhone in Los Angeles.”

“It’s an important detail when debating how new technology — and new police methods — affect Americans’ Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination,” Pagliery reports. “The LA Times article posed a pivotal question: If a person can’t be forced to unlock their phones by revealing their passcode, why is a judge forcing a person to unlock a phone with her fingerprints?”

“As it turns out, the method didn’t work anyway. ‘They forced her to use all 10 fingers to unlock the phone. But it didn’t unlock the phone,’ said George G. Mgdesyan, the attorney who represented the couple,” Pagliery reports. “When that didn’t work, FBI agents tried an alternative route, he said. ‘They asked for a password. She said, ‘It’s not my phone,” Mgdesyan explained.”

MacDailyNews Note: When an iPhone hasn’t been unlocked using the Touch ID feature for 48 hours, the device will demand the passcode.

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: As David Oscar Markus, a Miami defense attorney who’s quoted in the article says: “Sometimes the law gets too cute. We shouldn’t leave common sense out of the equation. The process is the same thing. You’re getting access to someone’s most private information by forcing someone to give you the key.”

You carry forever the fingerprint that comes from being under someone’s thumb. — Nancy Banks-Smith

To set a stronger alphanumeric passcode on your iOS device that cannot be easily brute-forced:
1. Settings > Touch ID & Passcode. On devices without Touch ID, go to Settings > Passcode
2. Tap Change Passcode
3. Tap Passcode Options to switch to a custom alphanumeric code
4. Enter your new, stronger passcode again to confirm it and activate it

The Touch ID lock on your iPhone isn’t cop-proof – May 11, 2016
U.S. government wants your fingerprints to unlock your phone – May 1, 2016
Should you disable Touch ID for your own security? – May 9, 2016
Apple supplier LG Innotek embeds fingerprint sensor into display – May 4, 2016
U.S. government wants your fingerprints to unlock your phone – May 1, 2016
Android fingerprint scanners fooled by inkjet printer – March 8, 2016
Android fingerprint sensors aren’t as secure as iPhone’s Touch ID – August 10, 2015
Apple files for patent to move Touch ID fingerprint scanner from home button to display – February 9, 2015


  1. Fecklsss Bureau of Investigation didn’t think to have her do all ten toes. Or to determine the phone belonged to her, even. Publicity hs not gone well for them lately.

          1. “This administration” has zip to do with it. It’s not politics, it’s not Democrats, it’s not Republicans and has zero to do with partisan crap. Your username/avatar just gives you away. You are totally and completely void of credibility when you start that crap.

    1. Courts have unanimously ruled that using your fingerprint to unlock a phone isn’t a violation of your 5th amendment rights. The argument I’ve heard is that a passcode is something you know, so divulging that would be effectively testifying against yourself, but a fingerprint is something you have, so providing that isn’t considered testifying against yourself.

      Also, what’s one of the first things the police do when they arrest you? Take your fingerprints. So there’s a very long, well-established precedent allowing the police to take your fingerprints and investigate using them (search a database, compare them to those found at a crime scene, etc.)

        1. I agree with your IMHO, but clearly the judge in this case doesn’t. And this is one of those things that isn’t explicitly legal or illegal, because I strongly doubt there’s any law in the US (or the world for that matter) that says one way or another, the law simply doesn’t keep up with technology like that. In this case, the judge’s ruling may be appealed, and reversed or upheld, which can be appealed… up to the Supreme Court. Also, various levels of government may pass laws making it explicitly legal or illegal. But until any of that happens, it’s legal, at least in the judge’s jurisdiction, because the judge has said it is.

  2. This is the break FIB has been waiting for. Check out the iphone in the photo, now the information on it is a flag, but it’s not the flag of FIB’s nation, it’s the flag of some other nation that just happens to have a time lord there.

    How dare they have one and FIB’s home nation doesn’t. Certainly this calls upon the solution to every problem that FIB’s nation has and that’s to declare war. That way they can confiscate the Tardigrade and obtain the ability to use it from Dr. When so that FIB can travel back in time to obtan the evidence they need to solve their crime, their precious crime.

    If Dr. When won’t cooperate then it’s a nice “enemy combatant” stamp and an exclusive suite at the Guantanamo on the Bay Resort.

    And it will be all admissible because if you can buy this: “In his ruling about the iPhone search, Virginia Circuit Court Judge Steven Frucci made a novel distinction. The judge said it’s okay for police to force suspects to use physical characteristics, like a fingerprint, to unlock a phone. But they can’t force someone to “disclose the contents of his own mind,” like a password.”

    you can buy this as well: These aren’t the contents of his mind, they are the contents of his brain, so it’s admissible. You can have a brain without a mind, why just look at some of the FIB agents.

    /shjtt is the tag used for satire, humor, joke, tall tale.

  3. As she said, and she may be lieing, “It’s not my phone.”

    That wound be correct to some extent that her fingers didn’t work. She could give them a password she “knows” and go from there. It still won’t work.

    Another perspective. Let’s say you are asked in court to unlock a phone, but you know it’s not yours. Let’s say you guess the password correctly. Would you really want someone else’s information to be incriminating against you or made to be of your ownership?

    I say, claim the 5th regardless if it’s your phone or not, since you should not want to be at the least associated with its contents.

  4. I would have thought that virtually everybody who has used an IOS device with a fingerprint sensor was aware that you need to enter the password if it hasn’t been used for 48 hours.

    It makes you wonder why the FBI didn’t seem aware of this and went through the legal process to get this ruling, despite having had possession of that iPhone for about six months? There was no way that it was ever going to unlock with a fingerprint after all that time.

    1. Am I the only one who has had my iPhone frequently demand my password instead of allowing my fingerprint to unlock it, even when I last used my fingerprint eight hours before, e.g., the previous evening? That is nowhere near 48 hours…

        1. This is an interesting point. I’ve always wondered, in the case of devices like a smartphone, are you not in effect being compelled to incriminate yourself? I would think this could be argued by a half way decent attorney with a gift for explaining nuances.

        2. Clearly, you are not a lawyer and know very little about interpretation of the Constitution and Bill of Rights. As you have up and down this page, you say stuff and think because you are articulate and speak with certainty it means you are correct. Guess what? You aren’t and there is little or no precedent to back up any of the interpretations you have made.

        3. You (I’ll be generous and assume accidentally) left out the end of that clause: “without due process of law.” In this case, there *was* due process of law. You (and I, and a bunch of people) may not like the result of the process, but there was due process, so no violation of the 5th amendment.

            1. I’m not sure what “nor” you’re referring to, directly before “without due process” is “property,”, not nor. There are two other “nor”s in that clause, the first is just the conjunction joining the preceding clause and the clause in question, the second is the conjunction between the list made up of “shall be compelled…himself ” and “be deprived…property”. So I don’t understand what you’re claiming is wrong.

        4. (I am also not a lawyer)

          The 5th protects a person from giving testimony against himself. Collection and seizure of evidence (including a person’s fingerprints) with “due process of law” is clearly permitted, but I suppose knowledge is a specially held kind of evidence?

          But if the evidence will not / cannot be used to incriminate the person (e.g., immunity granted) then the 5th doesn’t apply, and the court CAN compel testimony.

          Compelling fingerprint to unlock seems no different to me from seizing a (physical) key as evidence. A person can be deprived of property, liberty, etc. with due process.

Reader Feedback

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.