There is a new trend with smartphones…fingerprint scanners. When they first came out, most people were blown away. Even our staff at Bolt Mobile were giddy with excitement and intrigue. It was actually hard for most people to comprehend that our fingerprints were able to unlock our phone. The scanners were only available on the higher end mobile devices such as the iPhone 5S and Samsung Galaxy S5, but now they are a staple feature on devices you can get for as little as $0 when you upgrade to a two year voice and data plan at Bolt Mobile.
Besides unlocking your phone, fingerprint scanners are now commonly used to log into user accounts and pay for purchases on a smartphone. They’re great for adding a layer of security and it’s actually super convenient versus having to punch in your pin code every time. With all that said, are these scanners good for personal privacy?
As we have seen in the media recently and more so south of the border, fingerprint scanners do have their shortfalls…especially when it comes to your privacy. In October 2014, a Virginia court ruled that suspects can be asked to unlock their phones using their fingerprints. It appears that the power wasn’t used by law enforcement until this February, when a judge in Los Angeles issued a warrant requiring a woman accused of identity theft to unlock her iPhone with her fingerprint.
What makes this case super interesting is that had the suspect only used a PIN or password to lock her phone, she wouldn’t have had to unlock it for the police. Why?
Well it’s because the Fifth Amendment, which protects people from incriminating themselves during legal proceedings, prevents government agencies from compelling people to turn over memorized passcodes. However, a biometric identifier, such as a fingerprint, doesn’t reveal anything in your mind and can be collected. Now that’s some interesting stuff.
With all this said, does that make PINs better for keeping people from snooping on data stored on your phone? Yes.
It is worth noting that for those of you still worried about the security around fingerprint scanners, there are indeed several ways to fool this technology. We have seen studies where people were able to access a locked phone using tape or even gelatin used to make Gummi Bears. It’s very unlikely but people could make a copy of your fingerprint and use it to gain access to data on your smartphone.
If you do use a PIN or password to unlock your phone, it’s not bullet proof but it’s not easy.
The FBI reportedly spent a million dollars to crack a PIN-locked iPhone discovered in connection with the San Bernardino terror attacks, and it isn’t clear if the same method can be reused to unlock other devices. So unless you’re plotting something that would warrant this sort of investigation, the data on your phone will be safe from prying eyes.
Security is always a concern and so if you have any questions regarding your smartphone, visit any of our four neighbourhood stores in Saskatoon and our wireless experts will help you out.