Police Want to 3D Print a Dead Man’s Fingers to Unlock His Phone

Asking Apple to help break an iPhone is so three months ago. Police have a new, and higher-tech idea: 3D print the fingers of a dead man and use those fingerprints to unlock the phone instead.

Michigan State University professor Anil Jain—who has been assigned six U.S. patents on fingerprint recognition—told Fusion that police showed up at his lab to ask for help in catching a murderer in an ongoing investigation. They had scans of the victim’s fingerprints from a previous arrest and thought that unlocking his phone (the make and model weren’t divulged) might provide clues as to who killed him.

Jain and his PhD student Sunpreet Arora have already printed all 10 digits using the scans and coated them in a layer of metallic particles to mimic how conducive skin is and make it easier to read. The final 3D-printed fingers aren’t finished, but they’ll be ready for police to try out in a matter of weeks.

It’s possible that the whole move will be futile because many phones that use bio-metric data require a PIN to be entered if it hasn’t been used in two days. If that’s the case, fingerprint won’t unlock anything.

The legality of this move is still up in the air, but the case is further proof that fingerprints, while cool, are not really the safest way of securing our private data.

Not that it matters for a dead man, but in 2014 a judge ruled that suspects can be required to unlock a phone with a fingerprint. While the Fifth Amendment protects the right to avoid self-incrimination and makes it illegal to force someone to give out a passcode, biometric indicators like fingerprints are not covered by the Fifth Amendment, according to the ruling.

Maybe it’s time to go back to PIN.

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