Senator Sends Letter to Tim Cook Over Touch ID Privacy Concerns

NewImageSenator Al Franken (D-MN) has sent a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook expressing concern over the new Touch ID fingerprint sensor built into the iPhone 5s, which went on sale earlier today.

In the letter (PDF), the Senator, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law, says he is an iPhone owner and is concerned about the use of fingerprints to unlock the device.

It's clear to me that Apple has worked hard to secure this technology and implement it responsibly. The iPhone 5S reportedly stores fingerprint data locally "on the chip" and in an encrypted format. It also blocks third-party apps from accessing Touch ID. Yet important questions remain about how this technology works, Apple's future plans for this technology, and the legal protections that Apple will afford it. I should add that regardless of how carefully Apple implements fingerprint technology, this decision will surely pave the way for its peers and smaller competitors to adopt biometric technology, with varying protections for privacy.

Franken goes on to ask twelve separate questions of Cook, including:

- If it's possible to convert locally-stored fingerprint data into a format that can be used by third parties.

- If it's possible to extract and obtain fingerprint data from an iPhone 5s either remotely or with physical access to the device.

- What diagnostic information the iPhone 5s sends to Apple about the Touch ID system.

- Whether Apple considers fingerprint data to be the "subscriber information" or "electronic communication transactional records", the "contents" of communications, customer or subscriber records, or a "subscriber number or identity" as defined in the Stored Communications Act, or a "tangible thing" as defined in the USA PATRIOT Act.

The last group of questions relates to when and if Apple could be required to disclose fingerprint information to U.S. Government law enforcement agencies.


Apple, for its part, has posted an extensive knowledge base article about the security benefits of the Touch ID system, though it only discloses broad details about how the iPhone 5s stores fingerprint data, but nevertheless, it may answer some of the questions that Senator Franken asked:

Touch ID does not store any images of your fingerprint. It stores only a mathematical representation of your fingerprint. It isn't possible for your actual fingerprint image to be reverse-engineered from this mathematical representation. iPhone 5s also includes a new advanced security architecture called the Secure Enclave within the A7 chip, which was developed to protect passcode and fingerprint data. Fingerprint data is encrypted and protected with a key available only to the Secure Enclave. Fingerprint data is used only by the Secure Enclave to verify that your fingerprint matches the enrolled fingerprint data. The Secure Enclave is walled off from the rest of A7 and as well as the rest of iOS. Therefore, your fingerprint data is never accessed by iOS or other apps, never stored on Apple servers, and never backed up to iCloud or anywhere else. Only Touch ID uses it and it can't be used to match against other fingerprint databases.

Senator Franken gave Tim Cook and Apple thirty days to answer the questions and, though it is not a subpoena and Apple is not required to respond, the company is likely to cooperate.

This is not the first time that Senator Franken has interacted with Apple -- in 2011, he asked both Apple and Google to require clear privacy policies for apps sold on their app stores. He also introduced a bill to help protect customer location data.

Top Rated Comments

(View all)
Avatar
90 months ago
What he really meant: "What are you collecting and how can we get our hands on it?"
Score: 72 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
90 months ago
Nsa

I am far more concerned about the NSA and the issue of spying then I am of some company. A company has to actually respond to the customer. Whereas the government does not give a rats ass.
Score: 45 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
90 months ago
PC laptops have had fingerprint sensors for years... Why isn't he writing Lenovo, Dell, HP?

This guy is just "concerned" to get his name in the news with a big name company like Apple and the new phone release, makes it look like he cares for his people...
Score: 37 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
90 months ago
Give me a break

Does this guy want to look good or something. If i am not mistaken this is not the first consumer product with fingerprint technology ( example all those laptops out there come to mind) and as far as i can tell Apple has gone further to secure your identity where there device. SOOO get off there back and be logical you silly senator
Score: 37 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
90 months ago




Yeah, lets take this guy seriously...
Score: 34 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
90 months ago

But it's ok, it's Apple. If this was Google collecting this information, you guys would be up in arms.


Well, since Apple has made clear it is not collecting the data, and it resides only on the phone's chipset, your point is sort of irrelevant.
Score: 28 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

Apple Takes Legal Action Against Small Company With Pear Logo

Saturday August 8, 2020 11:09 am PDT by
Apple is taking legal action against the developers of the app "Prepear" due to its logo, according to iPhone in Canada. Prepear is an app that helps users discover recipes, plan meals, make lists, and arrange grocery deliveries. The app is a spinoff of "Super Healthy Kids," and the founders claim that they are facing litigation from Apple. Apple reportedly takes issue with Prepear's logo, ...

Kuo: Global iPhone Shipments Could Decline Up to 30% If Apple Forced to Remove WeChat From App Store [Updated x2]

Sunday August 9, 2020 10:17 pm PDT by
In a worst-case scenario, Apple's annual global iPhone shipments could decline by 25–30% if it is forced to remove WeChat from its App Stores around the world, according to a new research note from analyst Ming-Chi Kuo viewed by MacRumors. The removal could occur due to a recent executive order aiming to ban U.S. transactions with WeChat and its parent company Tencent. Kuo lays out...

iPhone Maker Foxconn Says China's 'Days as the World's Factory Are Done'

Wednesday August 12, 2020 7:55 am PDT by
China will no longer be the world's manufacturing epicenter going forward, according to Apple's largest supply chain partner Foxconn, which has been gradually expanding its operations in other countries amid the U.S.-China trade war. "No matter if it's India, Southeast Asia or the Americas, there will be a manufacturing ecosystem in each," said Foxconn chairman Young Liu, according to Bloombe...

Google Maps Debuts New Apple Watch App and CarPlay Features

Monday August 10, 2020 9:16 am PDT by
Google today announced the launch of several features for Google Maps on Apple products, including new CarPlay functionality and a new Google Maps app that works on Apple Watch. The new Google Maps app for Apple Watch works similarly to the iOS app, allowing Apple Watch owners to get directions for a car, bike, public transit, or on foot. The app supports estimated arrival times and...

Apple May Release 4G-Only iPhone 12 in Early 2021

Tuesday August 11, 2020 5:28 am PDT by
In a research note shared by Business Insider, Wedbush Securities analysts said that Apple may release a cheaper iPhone 12 in early 2021 with no 5G connectivity. Wedbush initially believed Apple would launch a mix of 4G and 5G iPhone 12 models this fall. Following re-examination of Asian supply chains, analysts Daniel Ives, Strecker Backe, and Ahmad Khalil revised the predictions,...

iPad Pro Keyboard Comparison: Logitech's $160 Folio Touch vs. Apple's $300 Magic Keyboard

Tuesday August 11, 2020 2:11 pm PDT by
Logitech recently debuted the Folio Touch, a keyboard and trackpad case designed for the 11-inch iPad Pro that serves as an alternative to the Magic Keyboard. In our latest YouTube video, we compare the $160 Folio Touch to Apple's $300 Magic Keyboard to see which is better. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. Logitech is selling the Folio Touch for $160, while Apple's...

Foxconn Reportedly Begins Seasonal Hiring Spree for iPhone 12 Production

Monday August 10, 2020 7:03 am PDT by
Apple's largest manufacturing partner Foxconn has begun its seasonal hiring spree to assist with iPhone 12 production, offering employees who recruit qualified applicants up to a 9,000 yuan bonus, according to Chinese media reports. As usual, Foxconn needs as many hands on deck as possible at its factory in Zhengzhou, China to assist with mass production of the upcoming iPhones. Apple is...

Apple Seeds First Public Beta of watchOS 7 to Public Beta Testers

Monday August 10, 2020 10:33 am PDT by
Apple today seeded the first public beta of an upcoming watchOS 7 update to public beta testers, one week after seeding the fourth beta to developers and a month and a half after the Worldwide Developers Conference. The update can be downloaded after installing the proper profile from Apple's Public Beta website. watchOS 7 should not be installed on a primary device as it is still an early...

Apple Watch Likely to Adopt MicroLED Display Technology in 3-4 Years

Monday August 10, 2020 2:55 am PDT by
This year's Apple Watch Series 6 is expected to feature an OLED screen like previous models, but a future model is likely to be the first Apple product to adopt MicroLED display technology, albeit not for another three to four years. That's the main takeaway reading between the lines of comments made by the chairman of Epistar, Taiwan's top LED producer, which is reportedly working on a...

Parallels Desktop 16 Brings macOS Big Sur Support, Multi-Touch Gestures, 20% Faster DirectX, and More

Tuesday August 11, 2020 2:17 am PDT by
Parallels Desktop 16 released today, bringing some notable new features and performance enhancements to the virtualization software, including full support for macOS Big Sur. When Apple introduced macOS Big Sur, it ended support for the third-party kernel extensions that previous versions of Parallels were built on. That forced the developers to re-engineer the virtualization software from the ...