Cops 3D Print Fingers to Access Dead Man's Phone


Michigan police have reportedly requested 3D-printed replicas of a dead man's fingers in a bid to unlock his smartphone.

According to Fusion, a man was murdered, and officials believe there might be information on his phone that could lead to the killer. But, as with most modern handsets, it is protected by fingerprint recognition and a passcode. The victim's body is reportedly not in a state that would allow law enforcement to simply apply his finger on the phone's fingerprint reader. So, bypassing the smartphone manufacturer altogether (presumably expecting pushback), police had a Michigan State University professor 3D print the the man's fingers—unique markings and all.

Police had the man's fingerprints on file from a previous arrest, so Anil Jain and his PhD student Sunpreet Arora used them to 3D print clones of all 10 digits. Unsure which finger the man used to unlock his phone, the researchers covered them all with a thin layer of metallic particles so the handset can read the individual markings.

Jain and Arora have not yet handed over (no pun intended) their 3D creations to the police, Fusion said; they are still testing the fingers in their lab, and will return them "in a few weeks."

As Fusion readers pointed out, however, some handsets require a passcode if the fingerprint scanner isn't used within a certain period of time. Which means 3D-printed extremities may ultimately prove fruitless. The make and model of the victim's phone was not revealed.

In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled that police must get a warrant before they can search the contents of your cell phone. But unlike memorized passwords, "tangible" bodily evidence—blood, DNA, fingerprints—is not safeguarded by the Fifth Amendment (protection against self-incrimination), conceivably allowing law enforcement easier access to a locked smartphone.

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