As smartphones continue to become more ubiquitous and increasingly important repositories of anything from vital information to sensitive photos, the legal standing of police accessing the contents of a phone is becoming a more pivotal issue, one which Apple seems to be addressing.
Apple has been at the forefront of several prominent cases involving police access to phones. Right now, the legal territory of the issue is very nuanced, and that nuance has real consequences on phone design and usage, as is being seen. In 2014, a Virginia Circuit Court ruled that police can force someone to unlock a phone via that person's fingerprint. On the other hand, forcing a person to input a numeric passcode or some sort of password is considered a breach of the Fifth Amendment; thus, while both security methods serve the same function, the legal protections they give a user are vastly different.
Users of the iOS 11 beta have uncovered a new feature: when one presses the sleep button five times in a row, the phone disables Touch ID, brings up the emergency SOS call screen, and requires a passcode to be unlocked. While it's not clear that Apple implemented that feature specifically to disallow police the ability to have a phone unlocked via fingerprint, it does offer increased security in such situations. There's no guarantee the feature will make it to the final build of iOS 11 either, but as phones continue to become some of our most valuable (and personal) possessions, it's good to see companies tackling the issue.