Why fingers make handy, if not foolproof, digital keys

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SAN FRANCISCO - Using your fingerprint to unlock your phone or computer may not be a safe as you'd think.

In a rush to do away with problematic passwords, Apple, Microsoft and other tech companies are nudging consumers to use their fingerprints, faces or eyes as digital keys.

But there are drawbacks: Hackers could still steal a fingerprint - or its digital representation. And police may have broader legal powers to make you unlock your phone.

Anil Jain, a computer science professor at Michigan State University, says, "We may expect too much from biometrics. No security systems are perfect." Jain helped police unlock a smartphone by using a digitally enhanced ink copy of the owner's fingerprints.

Apple's iPhone 5S, launched in 2013, introduced fingerprint scanners to a mass audience, and rival phone makers quickly followed suit. Microsoft's Windows 10 allows you to unlock your PC by briefly looking at the screen. Samsung is now touting an iris-scanning system in its latest Galaxy Note devices.

All those systems are based on the notion that each user's fingerprint - or face, or iris - is unique. But that doesn't mean they can't be reproduced.