Florida police try using dead man’s finger to unlock cellphone

Nation/World

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CLEARWATER, Fla. – Florida police have raised eyebrows by showing up at a funeral home and trying to use a dead man’s finger to access his phone, the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Victoria Armstrong was at Sylvan Abbey Funeral Home in Clearwater when two detectives showed up and held the hands of her fiance, Linus Phillip, to the fingerprint sensor on his phone.

“I just felt so disrespected and violated,” Armstrong says. The unlocking attempt failed, but police—who shot and killed Phillip in a gas-station clash last month, per WFLA—say the phone’s data could have helped in probing the man’s death and resolving a drug inquiry that includes Phillip.

The move also triggered debate about using a corpse to unlock a phone.

“While the deceased person doesn’t have a vested interest in the remains of their body, the family sure does, so it really doesn’t pass the smell test,” says a professor at Stetson University College of Law. “There’s a ghoulish component to it that’s troubling to most people.”

But police say they got Phillip’s phone within a 48- to 72-hour period when fingerprint access is allowed, and Florida law only states who is authorized to get rid of a dead person’s remains—not who has access to them.

So this will likely go to the courts, where judges aren’t always kind to the dead. “The law has been most cruel, really unforgiving to a dead person,” says another law professor. “It provides no entitlement or legal rights after death to a deceased person.”

 

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