Under the impression that the fingerprint lock on your smartphone is the best way of keeping all your personals personal?
This story may cause you to think again: Michigan police have requested the help of a computer science professor to help them unlock a murder victim's phone by 3D printing his fingerprints.
Anil Jain, a specialist in biometric identifiers at Michigan State University, has been speaking to Fusion about the truly bizarre request. Having been provided with fingerprints of the victim (taken by the police when he was alive for a previous offence), Jain was asked to turn the scans into 3D replicas. The police hope that by unlocking the victim's phone - the model of which is unknown - they might be able to gain valuable information on who murdered him.
However, the process is a lot more complicated than just building plastic fingers based on a few inky prints: the smartphone's scanner requires an electric current to pass through the prints, joining tiny electric circuits in a pattern unique to the user. To get around this, Jain and his PhD student Sunpreet Arora are coating the 3D-printed fingers with a thin layer of metallic particles which should register with the capacitive scanner of the victim's phone.
Jain and Arora are yet to give the 3D printed fingers back to the police, but there's a significant chance the hack might fail; many smartphones require an additional PIN to be inputted if the finger print scanner hasn't been used in 48 hours.
There's also the question of the legality of the whole process: security, law and technology researcher Bryan Choi told Fusion that the contents of the phone may be protected by the Fifth Amendment, which guards against self-incrimination.
"We offload so many of our personal thoughts, moments, tics, and habits to our cellphones," he told Fusion. "Having those contents aired in court feels like having your innermost thoughts extracted and spilled unwillingly in public."
Could this become the new FBI v Apple case? Will we all soon swap finger print scanners for retina scanners in a search for the most secure body part to open our phones with?
We'll just stick to keeping our innermost thoughts in our heads until things gain a bit more clarity.