According to an article published on the Live Science.com, last March, two detectives went to a funeral home and asked to see a body. The reason? They wanted to review digital information on the dead man’s cellphone. But to unlock the man's phone they needed his fingerprints, according to news reports. And though the detectives were granted access to the man's body and his fingertips, but they couldn't unlock the phone.
What the detectives did certainly raises questions. And given that the detectives were unsuccessful, it resurfaces a science question as well: Do you need to be alive for your fingertips to unlock your phone? And what about newer technology using iris scans or face-recognition technology to unlock digital accounts? Will that technology work after death?
Professor of Computer Science at Michigan State, Anil Jain, notes that it gets more difficult to unlock a phone using fingertips the longer a person has been dead. This is because, on most smartphones, fingerprint identification works through electrical conductance, Jain told Live Science. When we place our fingertips on a fingerprint scanner, the ridges of our fingerprint touch the surface whereas the valleys don’t. Tiny capacitors — devices that store electrical charge — will store more charge coming from the finger if they sit under ridges than they would under valleys. The sensors will use these patterns to form a detailed image. But when a person dies, that flow of electricity ceases, and with it, any chance of interacting with the scanner.
Until recently, iris recognition scanning worked even if the owner of the eye was deceased which led to many Hollywood movie plot lines where the villain got around the ultra-security measures using the eyeball of the unfortunate guard manning the gate. Or think of the entire plot-line to my favorite John Travolta movie, “Face/Off” where the villain switched faces with the protagonist FBI agent with evil results.
But according to a July 2018 MIT Technology review article, researchers at Warsaw University of Technology in Poland have successfully created a database of iris scans from living people and from dead bodies and then trained a machine-learning algorithm to spot the difference. So its back to the drawing board for those Hollywood writers!
In the world of estate planning, desperate times calls for desperate measures. Think of trying to help a client with a recently deceased loved ones phone needed to access digital assets - whether all those cute Halloween pics on the cloud, on the phone or just to use two-factor identification methods. This is why planning ahead to protect your digital assets is so vitally important.
Call me today at the Foster Legal Advisory Group for a free 30 minute consult to learn how to protect those you love through the use of legal documents and not by storing eyeballs, fingers or faces in your freezer to unlock an iphoneX!