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I opened the YouTube app last night to watch a video about the anti-government protests in Hong Kong. A clever five-second ad from Apple preceded it. “This is how long it takes for FaceID to unlock your phone,” the commercial said. The actor smiled, happily surprised as he successfully unlocked his phone just by looking at it.

The video then switched abruptly to Hong Kong, where local cops have been prying open protestors’ shut eyes so that FaceID will unlock their smartphones, giving the cops near-instant access to what can be an entire life’s worth of data. Most phones are encrypted and not easily broken into, though companies like Cellebrite have made a profitable business out of hacking into phones at the request of paying government customers. Many of the newest Apple and Android smartphones, however, can respond to their owner’s face and reveal the treasures inside.

American cops aren’t likely to resort to forcing someone’s eyes open. But they can command you to look at a phone or to put your finger on the fingerprint sensor to unlock it, an order known as “compelled decryption.”

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Category: Science