Juelle Grant from Schenectady, New York, discovered that an old iPhone feature is a new way of getting in trouble with the law. According to reporting from appleinsider, she was already a suspect in a drive-by shooting.
“Police suspect Juelle Grant as the driver in the Oct. 23 shooting, which had no injuries, according to the Daily Gazette. Grant is also accused of hiding the shooter’s identity, and removing the gun used… The iPhone was seized as evidence in the case, but police say that shortly after she triggered the remote wipe, an option available via Find My iPhone in iCloud. Normally the tool is intended for people with lost or stolen devices.”
While the investigation into the shooting is still ongoing, the police were able to charge Grant with two counts of physical evidence tampering, and one count of interfering with prosecution. According to court documents, the defendant was fully aware of what she was doing when she wiped the phone.
With a well-provisioned and well-informed police force, this type of tampering would not have been possible. A simple Faraday bag would have been sufficient for the purposes of blocking all signals both to and from the device. It is unclear if the police had such a device at their disposal.
The internet is filled with step-by-step examples of how to make a functional Faraday pouch, as it is an object that almost anyone can build. Those who would rather purchase one rather than craft one can buy them at Amazon — and other online retailers — for less than $10. A signal blocking pouch is not high technology, nor is it new or novel.
This sort of remote tampering of cell phone or smartphone evidence has been in the news for some time. By now, police forces are very familiar with evidentiary standards for smartphones and other associated devices. A few weeks ago, police were told not to look at iPhone screens — so as not to trigger Face ID — as reported by PCMag.
Remote Wipe is not intended to circumvent the law. It is a part of the Find My iPhone and Activation Lock features, features which are intended to allow a person to remotely delete all data from their phone when it is lost or stolen. The wipe can be done on another iPhone, or through iCloud.
There is a chance that Grant didn’t have to take that step at all. The latest iPhones cannot be cracked by the Cellebrite tool favored by law enforcement. And to date, there have been no reports of the police being able to successfully spoof Touch ID or Face ID to bypass the passcode on the lock screen. Despite stories of well-equipped hackers spoofing iPhones, it has proven to be practically impossible in real life.