Apple has deposed a patent (USPTO link) that describes how the company’s devices could use the fingerprint information of thieves, to catch them. Called “Biometric capture for unauthorized user identification,” the patent describes how an unrecognized user’s biometric information (fingerprint) could be stored locally, or on the cloud, to be utilized at a later time for identification. A couple of years ago, it was recognized that iPhones were the most targeted by UK thieves.At the moment, there’s no official plan to actually implement the system, but Apple has deemed the idea important enough to file a patent. If implemented one day, it would be a drastic change in how biometric information is handled.
With current policies, most devices avoid transmitting biometric information and keep them encrypted in a secure area of the hardware. The fear is that transmission could be prone to interception and decryption, given enough time and computing power. Without transmission, physical access to the phone would be required, which limits the possibility of mass leaks of millions of records at once.
Learn more: How do Fingerprint Scanners Work?
If transmitted, the biometric data (either fingerprint or fingerprint digital signature) could be cross-referenced with a database of known users or government databases. At the same time, it’s very easy to record and send other information pertinent to theft, such as the GPS location (or recent route), the keystrokes and swipes or even photos taken with the front camera.
Of course, it would be a huge problem for thieves who would then need to take extra precautions, although this would target the careless thief rather than the organized one. Thieves have proven very resourceful and some don’t hesitate to dig tunnels to steal iPhones. Also, it’s easy to imagine how children could trigger false alerts etc…
Transmitting information about thieves is not new, and there are plenty of examples of stolen iPhones sending data to the cloud, like this thief who streamed his photos from a stolen iPhone, or that one who was unknowingly documenting his life on Tumblr.
This is an idea that is worth discussing because phone theft is rampant, and OEMs are often accused of not doing enough to deter illegal sales of stolen property. For instance, it’s a fact that the Activation Lock deters theft. What do you think? Yay or Nay?