Those of you residing in the Chicagoland area may have read an article recently in the Chicago Tribune: Blue Sky Innovation column about Michigan police attempting to open a murder victim’s phone using a 3D print of his fingerprint. The police believe that the victim’s phone may have information pertaining to whom the killer could be. Having been arrested in the past, local law enforcement agents had the victim’s fingerprints when they approached Dr. Anil Jain and his PhD student Sunpreet Arora of Michigan State University looking for a way to bypass the lock on the phone. For those who don’t know, skin is a very weak electrical conductor. Most biometric scanners work as a very small capacitor, using a unique pattern (your fingerprint) to complete an electrical circuit. In order to make the fingerprint replicas capable of completing the circuit, Jain and Arora are using a very fine layer of metallic particles on the surface of the prints. So far, they have not been able able to successfully fabricate a working fingerprint model, but the police and the public both believe it will work. “I absolutely think it’s possible but I think it’s really a combination of getting the right hardware and the right [conductive] materials” our CEO and founder, Dima Elissa said when interviewed by the Chicago Tribune on the subject.
But what if scientists are able to replicate this victim’s fingerprint with 3D printing? Some say that this is a touchy topic that infringes upon the 4th and 5th Amendments but officials say this is not the case. As of 2013, the Supreme Court delegated that officers of the law require a warrant to seize and search an individual’s phone – but in a situation where the phone belongs to the deceased, not the murderer, the Fifth Amendment isn’t being abused[help]. “Obviously, the victim is not at risk of incrimination” Bryan Choi, an expert on issues regarding cyberlaw and intellectual property told The Fusion. Choi continued to explain that the 5th amendment protects the memorized password of your phone, but not the “‘tangible’ bodily evidence … [like someone’s] fingerprints”. In other words, the police can request access to a phone that is protected by a biometric scanner.
Jain and Arora claim that they are close to making the fingerprint replica function properly. If they succeed, this breakthrough will help police to solve future crimes. Elissa stated to the Chicago Tribune, “It seems like there’s a fair bit of interest on behalf of authorities to be able to crack the code of personal devices. I could see this really having a lot of value.”
By Caity Benkoski