Many questions are being raised as to whether Face ID on the new iPhone X is a satisfactory form of security for users.

Facial Recognition
© Jane Kelly /

Apple has, however, included some technical features to make this more difficult – the iPhone X isn’t supposed to unlock if your eyes are closed. The fact that Apple Touch ID can be disabled on the fly, it is probable that the same will be true of Face ID. However, the fact remains that a passcode is still, from a legal perspective, much more secure than just about any biometric mechanism.

This is all according to Adi Robertson at The Verge, who also stated that “courts have so far granted different Fifth Amendment protections – which stop police from making you give potentially incriminating testimony – to key-codes and biometric locks.” However, there have been cases of phones being unlocked by authorities via fingerprint, because fingerprints can be construed as physical evidence. Let’s put it another way – giving up a PIN is a bit like giving up the code to a combination lock. This is protected by the Fifth Amendment.

Exceptions to the Rule

There have been exceptions. A judge blocked the request to let police test the fingerprints of everyone in a building and passwords are not always the be-all and end-all. Facial scanning may get more complex, offering much higher levels of security, but remembering your code offers a much clearer type of security than Touch ID or Face ID alone.

This vulnerability isn’t only an issue with Apple, as Robertson wrote of Samsung, the company who introduced face unlocking last spring – “Standing there while a law enforcement officer holds a phone up to your face or your eye is not a ‘testimonial’ act.” It would be great to get more details when the phone is out, but, unlike more general questions about security and performance, more details on this will most likely be scant to none.
The Fifth Amendment is part of the Constitution of the United States of America. It remains to be seen what future questions will come up regarding legal protection for smartphones and identity security in Europe.