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

Superdrive Avatar
115 months ago
What he really meant: "What are you collecting and how can we get our hands on it?"
Score: 72 Votes (Like | Disagree)
MacIke Avatar
115 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)
HiVolt Avatar
115 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)
k1121j Avatar
115 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)
croooow Avatar
115 months ago




Yeah, lets take this guy seriously...
Score: 34 Votes (Like | Disagree)
notabadname Avatar
115 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)

Popular Stories

maxresdefault

M2 13-Inch MacBook Pro With 256GB SSD Appears Slower Than Equivalent M1 in Real-World Speed Tests

Monday June 27, 2022 1:57 pm PDT by
Benchmark testing has indicated that the 256GB variant of the 13-inch MacBook Pro with M2 chip offers slower SSD performance than its M1 equivalent, and now real-world stress testing by YouTuber Max Yuryev of Max Tech suggests that the 256GB SSD in the 13-inch MacBook Pro is also underperforming in day-to day-usage. The M2 MacBook Pro with 256GB SSD and 8GB RAM was slower than the M1 MacBook ...
M2 Pro and Max Feature

Apple's Upcoming M2 Pro Chip for High-End MacBook Pro and Mac Mini Will Reportedly Be 3nm

Monday June 27, 2022 7:31 am PDT by
TSMC will manufacture Apple's upcoming "M2 Pro" and "M3" chips based on its 3nm process, according to Taiwanese industry publication DigiTimes. "Apple reportedly has booked TSMC capacity for its upcoming 3nm M3 and M2 Pro processors," said DigiTimes, in a report focused on competition between chipmakers like TSMC and Samsung to secure 3nm chip orders. As expected, the report said TSMC will...
iPhone 11 Pro vs iPhone 14 Pro

iPhone 11 Pro vs. 14 Pro: New Features to Expect if You've Waited to Upgrade

Monday June 27, 2022 11:22 am PDT by
With many customers choosing to upgrade their iPhone every two or three years nowadays, there are lots of iPhone 11 Pro users who might be interested in upgrading to the iPhone 14 Pro later this year. Those people are in for a treat, as three years of iPhone generations equals a long list of new features and changes to look forward to. Below, we've put together a list of new features and...
original iphone 2007

15 Years Ago Today, the iPhone Went On Sale

Wednesday June 29, 2022 4:43 am PDT by
Fifteen years ago to this day, the iPhone, the revolutionary device presented to the world by the late Steve Jobs, officially went on sale. The first iPhone was announced by Steve Jobs on January 9, 2007, and went on sale on June 29, 2007. "An iPod, a phone, an internet mobile communicator... these are not three separate devices," Jobs famously said. "Today, Apple is going to reinvent the...
tesla carplay hack

Tesla Apple CarPlay Hack Updated to Work With Any Tesla Model

Monday June 27, 2022 3:38 am PDT by
Polish developer Michał Gapiński has released a new and improved version of his "Tesla Android Project" which brings Apple's CarPlay experience to more Tesla vehicles than ever before. According to Gapiński, version 2022.25.1 provides "100% functional CarPlay integration for any Tesla," and comes with several new features and bug fixes. The project now supports DRM video playback so that...
13 inch macbook pro m2 mock feature 2

Base 13-Inch MacBook Pro With M2 Chip Has Significantly Slower SSD Speeds

Sunday June 26, 2022 2:52 pm PDT by
Following the launch of Apple's new 13-inch MacBook Pro with the M2 chip, it has been discovered that the $1,299 base model with 256GB of storage has significantly slower SSD read/write speeds compared to the equivalent previous-generation model. YouTube channels such as Max Tech and Created Tech tested the 256GB model with Blackmagic's Disk Speed Test app and found that the SSD's read and...
maxresdefault

Video Comparison: M2 MacBook Pro vs. M1 MacBook Pro

Tuesday June 28, 2022 2:45 pm PDT by
Apple last week launched an updated version of the 13-inch MacBook Pro, and it is the first Mac that is equipped with an updated M2 chip. As it's using a brand new chip, we thought we'd pick up the M2 MacBook Pro and compare it to the prior-generation M1 MacBook Pro to see just what's new. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. For the video comparison, we're using the...
iPhone vs Galaxy Larger

Apple Executive Says Samsung Copied the iPhone and Simply 'Put a Bigger Screen Around It'

Tuesday June 28, 2022 8:59 am PDT by
The Wall Street Journal's Joanna Stern today shared a new documentary about the evolution of the iPhone ahead of the 15th anniversary of the device launching on June 29, 2007. The documentary includes an interview with Apple's marketing chief Greg Joswiak, iPhone co-creator Tony Fadell, and a family of iPhone users. One segment of the interview reflects on Android smartphones gaining larger...
widgets ios 16 feature

Gurman: iPhone 14 Pro to Feature Always-On Display Showing iOS 16's New Lock Screen Widgets

Sunday June 26, 2022 7:36 am PDT by
iPhone 14 Pro models are widely expected to feature always-on displays that allow users to view glanceable information without having to tap to wake the screen. In the latest edition of his Power On newsletter for Bloomberg, Mark Gurman said the feature will include support for iOS 16's new Lock screen widgets for weather, fitness, and more. "Like the Apple Watch, the iPhone 14 Pro will be...