To Unlock a Dead Man's Phone, Police Turn to 3D Printing

Michigan State University professor Anil Jain is on the crime-busting case
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 22, 2016 9:51 AM CDT
Updated Jul 24, 2016 9:36 AM CDT
To Unlock a Dead Man's Phone, Police Turn to 3D Printing
An attendee shakes hands with a 3D-printed robotic prosthetic arm created based on an image scanned with Intel's RealSense 3D camera at CES on Jan. 7, 2015, in Las Vegas.   (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

An unsolved murder and a locked mobile phone led police to Michigan State University, with an unusual request: Could computer science professor Anil Jain whip up 3D-printed fingers of the victim? Doing so would give them manufactured fingerprints that could unlock his phone and perhaps glean clues about who killed him. The New York Daily News reports Michigan cops tracked Jain down after seeing a video he posted on YouTube that got into using re-created fingerprints to unlock phones. Without getting into specific details about the still-underway investigation, Jain and his PhD student assistant fill Fusion in about the unusual investigative method. The victim had been arrested at one point, so police were able to give Jain a scan of his fingerprints; because it wasn't clear which finger the victim used to unlock his Samsung Galaxy S6, Jain will work up all 10.

One particularly pesky complication: Readers rely on the conductive nature of human skin, so Jain has to add a "micron level coating" with tiny metallic pieces to the plastic fingers to make them conductive. Mashable reports he's been testing a variety of conductive materials. Whether this type of technology could be used on living suspects is another matter: Fusion notes it gets "murky," especially with Fifth Amendment protections for "contents of the mind" (a memorized password), but not for "tangible" corporeal evidence such as fingerprints. As far as the legal implications of breaking into the dead man's phone, any info found that could link the victim to any crimes wouldn't matter anyway as he's now deceased. It would a different story if cops wanted to break into the (ostensibly living) murderer's phone, notes Jain expects to have the fingers ready for police in a few weeks. (Speaking of skin, how would you feel about clothing made from it?)

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