Future iPhones might collect fingerprints, photos of thieves

An Apple patent application published on Thursday describes a method of storing an unauthorized user’s biometric information, which can help strengthen security management or assist in device recovery and criminal prosecution in the case of a theft.

As published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Apple’s invention covering “Biometric capture for unauthorized user identification” details the simple but brilliant — and legally fuzzy — idea of using an iPhone or iPad’s Touch ID module, camera and other sensors to capture and store information about a potential thief.

In practice, the proactive security system works in much the same way as existing Touch ID verification processes.

iPhone fingerprint scanner

Currently, users have five attempts to unlock iPhone or iPad with Touch ID before the device defaults to a 6-digit passcode or custom alphanumeric code. Ten failed passcode attempts results in a “cool down” period or a complete data wipe, depending on user settings. Further, passcodes are required after restarting the device, after more than 48 hours has elapsed between unlocks and when an owner wants to manage Touch ID and Passcode device settings.

Apple’s patent is also governed by device triggers, though different constraints might be applied to unauthorized user data aggregation. For example, in one embodiment a single failed authentication triggers the immediate capture of fingerprint data and a picture of the user.

In other cases, the device might be configured to evaluate the factors that ultimately trigger biometric capture based on a set of defaults defined by internal security protocols or the user.

That being said, today’s invention moves away from industry standard countermeasures and into the gray area of proactive digital forensics. As such, it is unlikely that Apple will introduce the technology in a consumer product anytime soon.