iOS 11 Allows Users to Disable Touch ID

A new feature in Apple’s new iPhone operating system—iOS 11—will allow users to quickly disable Touch ID.

A new setting, designed to automate emergency services calls, lets iPhone users tap the power button quickly five times to call 911. This doesn’t automatically dial the emergency services by default, but it brings up the option to and also temporarily disables Touch ID until you enter a passcode.

This is useful in situations where the police cannot compel you to divulge your password, but can compel you to press your finger on the reader.

Posted on August 21, 2017 at 6:57 AM16 Comments


Mateusz August 21, 2017 7:29 AM

An interesting development would to be have it also change the password to one which can only be retrieved from iCloud making it a case about accessing information on 3rd party system.

This way you can claim that you really don’t know it ( if you are dealing with country which makes it illegal to withhold passwords), and skip jail time for obstruction.

lefor August 21, 2017 8:21 AM

In that case, the police just has to ask the local branch of Apple to give them the new code. If you wanted so hard to prevent them from unlocking your phone in the first place, you don’t really win.

Juergen August 21, 2017 8:21 AM

I don’t think this would really help at all… after all, when faced with cops, why would you call 911? So the ONLY possible reason you triggered this was to disable TouchID, which means you knew they might ask you to unlock you phone, and thus you deliberately obstructed the police in their investigation.

TouchID is a convenience feature, so anything that suggests you used it but NOW disabled it will raise suspicion – either don’t use it in the first place, or pray that Apple (and Google, and others) will finally allow treating fingerprint sensors as 2FA, so you need to provide a fingerprint AND a (possibly shorter?) PIN or password.

Don August 21, 2017 8:34 AM

You have not obstructed the police if you disable touchID because they MIGHT ask you to unlock it. If you preemptively shred all documents and you are later subpoenaed for those documents you have not engaged in obstruction. If you keep your glove compartment locked you’re not obstructing because police MIGHT have asked you to open it.

Zed August 21, 2017 8:46 AM

This is an interesting feature, however five presses of the power button seems like a lot for a duress situation. I would prefer a setting where you could use one particular finger to initiate a PIN lock… or even a wipe.

Mateusz August 21, 2017 9:53 AM

Re password reset,
In case of deliberate investigation into your person, naturally it will not work, as there will be probable cause established and court orders to handover data from 3rd parties.

However, in case of random events, where officers, like at border/customs would not be able to do the search on the spot. They will have to employ the whole apparatus of the law to get hold of your data.

I assume that for a bored officers this would be a discouragement enough to give you a break and leave your privates on the phone alone.

Daniel August 21, 2017 10:01 AM

@Juergen is correct and @Don is wrong, at least in the USA. In the USA obstruction of justice turns on intentionality. If a reasonable person in one’s position would known that they are being investigated for a crime then anything that impedes that investigation is obstruction of justice. This is why it is best to have regular content deletion policies. With regular content deletion policies the counter-argument to obstruction of justice claims is that one was simply following one’s habitual practice, no nefarious motive was in play.

Whoever knowingly alters, destroys, mutilates, conceals, covers up, falsified, or makes a false entry in any record, document, or tangible object with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence the investigation or proper administration of any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States or any case filed under Title 11, or in relation to or contemplation of any such matter or case, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.

So let us see. Is an iPhone a tangible object? Yes. Is pressing the button five times an attempt to “cover up” or “conceal” a record on the tangible object? Yes. Is it an attempt to “influence” an investigation? Yes, if one does it “in relation” to “any matter within the jurisdiction” of any federal agency.

As for myself I think Apple’s ploy is basically worthless for a different reason. What is normally seen is not people who are desperate to keep police off their phones but quite the opposite, people who give their incriminating data to the police willingly. So this type of feature is useful to the .000001% of the population that (a) uses Apple phones (b) has an actual opportunity to use the feature before being detected by anyone, and (c) is willing to flirt with an obstruction of justice charge in order to keep people off their phone. I’m sure of two things. (1) People who meet that criteria exist and (2) I will never meet such a person in my life time.

Someone once called this type of feature a “unicorn feature”. Great for publicity, Helps almost no one.

Siri-ous August 21, 2017 10:25 AM

“Hey Siri, disable TouchID”.

You can do that while keeping both hands on the steering wheel after getting pulled over (or even WHILE getting pulled over), or even while handcuffed.

Impossibly Stupid August 21, 2017 4:51 PM

That’s a very limited set of functions to toggle in an emergency. We really should have the ability to turn on every evidence gathering sensor that a device provides, especially audio and video of the incident as it happens, even streaming it (or otherwise saving it remotely) when possible. It all runs until the device is either unlocked or dies.

Mall Mosquito August 21, 2017 6:17 PM

Re:… situations where the police cannot compel you to divulge your password, but can compel you to press your finger on the reader.

Uh huh. Flash back to reality, now.

Police are blue collar workers. They are armed with billy clubs, heavy flashlights, tasers, guns, and handcuffs. They don’t have the time or the patience, and neither are they in the position to appreciate the legal niceties of compelling you to divulge this versus that or the other thing according to the precedent-setting minutiae of a ruling of some judge who might not even have presided over a case in the same district, or on some state versus a federal matter, or whether or not the situation at hand is really even sufficiently similar to that of the cited precedent.

Mall Mosquito August 22, 2017 8:29 PM

Gotta call you out on that.

If a reasonable person in one’s position would known that they are being investigated for a crime then anything that impedes that investigation is obstruction of justice.

A reasonable person knows absolutely nothing about any investigation of any sort of crime until said reasonable person has been properly served with a search warrant, lawfully issued by a judge in accordance with the Constitution. There is no obstruction of justice on the part of the reasonable person until the reasonable person has failed to comply, i.e., actively hindered the execution of the warrant after having been properly served with it.

Mall Mosquito August 23, 2017 4:42 PM

That’s the problem.

No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse.

Or from Joel:

That which the palmerworm hath left hath the locust eaten; and that which the locust hath left hath the cankerworm eaten; and that which the cankerworm hath left hath the caterpiller eaten.

What the white nationalists left, the national socialists took over. What the national socialists left, the social democrats took over. What the social democrats left, the old-guard hard-line communists took over: the Vietcong, the DDR (East Germany), China, Russia, etc.

There’s just nothing left for us in America anymore.

DavidTC August 27, 2017 9:18 PM

Is pressing the button five times an attempt to “cover up” or “conceal” a record on the tangible object? Yes.

Please explain why you think the answer to that is yes.

Do you even know what the phrase ‘conceal’ or ‘cover up’ mean?

You still have the phone, it still has the same data on it. Nothing has been concealed or covered up.

The best argument for some sort of obstruction charge is that an object was ‘altered’.

The problem with that, of course, is that you have to be aware that some sort of investigation has started for you to be guilty of obstruction. And, no, the police talking to you is not obstruction, nor is the police pulling you over. (There might be an investigation of your driving, but as far as you are aware there is no pertinent information on your phone about that.)

Steve September 18, 2017 4:20 PM

Is this really any better than just powering the phone down? On restart, you have to use your password as TouchID is off.

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