In a world where the authorities may be just as likely to try to hack into your phone as a random crook, it’s nice to see that Apple has added a hidden trick that could help keep cops out.
A new feature found in the current iOS 11 beta allows users to press the sleep button five times to initiate an emergency SOS call. And as a part of the process, iOS 11 also disables Touch ID. That means the only way to unlock the phone after keying the emergency sequence is by entering your passcode.
While this might not sound like a big deal, it has pretty serious legal implications. In 2014, a judge in Virginia Circuit Court ruled that police can force users to unlock a phone using their fingerprint. However, a passcode or password is a different story, as that would fall under the Fifth Amendment, which gives people the right to avoid self-incrimination.
More recently in 2017, TSA agents have been demanding that certain travelers, including US citizens,unlock their phones and give access to authorities before being allowed to enter the country. While in the case we link to there, NASA JPL employee Sidd Bikkannavar willingly gave up his passcode, had he been using Touch ID to secure his phone, he could potentially have been forced to unlock his phone against his will.
Now, to be clear, this feature almost certainly wasn’t implemented with the express purpose of keeping the police from gaining access to your phone. Disabling Touch ID is part of iOS 11's larger SOS mode, which lets users automatically dial a specific number or send a text to a chosen person when in the case of emergency. But with Apple’s refusal to help the FBI unlock the the San Bernadino shooter’s iPhone, it’s nice to see that the company is continuing its efforts to support privacy and personal security.
The one caveat to all this is that iOS 11 is still a work in progress. So it’s possible that this feature may not make it into the final release of iOS 11, which is scheduled to go live sometime this fall.