U.S. Senator Raises Questions About Security and Privacy of Face ID

Just a day after Apple unveiled its new flagship iPhone X equipped with a facial recognition system, United States Senator Al Franken (D-MN), who is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law, sent a letter [PDF] to Apple CEO Tim Cook with some questions on the privacy and the security of the Face ID feature.

Face ID is designed to take a 3D face scan that determines the structure of a person's face and transforms it into a mathematical model for device authentication and unlocking purposes. Apple has said that Face ID is protected by the same Secure Enclave that keeps Touch ID data safe, and that all processing takes place on the device itself with no data uploaded to the cloud. Furthermore, Apple says Face ID can't be fooled by a photo or a mask.


In his letter, Franken raises concerns about how Apple plans to use facial recognition data in the future, the diversity of its training, how Apple will respond to law enforcement requests for Face ID data or the Face ID system, and if it might be fooled by a photo or a mask.

Since the announcement, however, reporters, advocates, and iPhone users have raised concerns about how Face ID could impact Americans' fundamental right to privacy, speculated on the ways in which Apple could use faceprint data in the future, and questioned the quality and security of the technology.

For example, it has previously been reported that many facial recognition systems have a higher rate of error when tested for accuracy in identifying people of color, which may be explained by variety of factors, including a lack of diversity in the faces that were used to train a system. Furthermore, some have expressed concern that the system could be fooled, and thus the device unlocked, by a photo or a mask of the owner of the device.

Franken asks Cook to respond to a series of 10 questions, many of which have already been addressed by Apple. Among the questions:

- Can Apple extract Face ID data from a device, will Apple ever store Face ID data remotely, and can Apple confirm that it has no plans to use faceprint data for purposes other than Face ID?

- Where did the one billion images that were used to train Face ID come from, and what steps did the company take to ensure the system was trained on a diverse set of faces?

- Does Face ID perpetually search for a face, and does Apple locally retain the raw photos of faces used to unlock the device? Will Apple retain the faceprints of individuals other than the owner of the device?

- What safeguard has Apple implemented to prevent the unlocking of the iPhone X when someone other than the owner holds the device up to the owners face? How does it distinguish a user's face from a photo or mask?

- How will Apple respond to law enforcement requests to access Apple's faceprint data or the Face ID system itself?

Back when Touch ID was first announced as a new feature in the iPhone 5s, Franken sent Cook a similar letter asking for clarification on how the Touch ID feature works.

Franken asks Tim Cook to respond to all of his Face ID questions by October 13, 2017. Apple is not obligated to respond as this is not a subpoena, but the company will likely cooperate with the request for information.

Top Rated Comments

(View all)
Avatar
35 months ago
I like Al Franken. I kind of know the answers to these questions being an Apple fan, but I think it's important to make sure the answers to these questions are as widely known as possible. It's a win for everybody too. Apple ends up looking like privacy advocates and important questions are answered before the next FBI case.
Score: 66 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
35 months ago
The government is suddenly worried about protecting our privacy? Maybe they should look at how they invade the privacy of citizens every day.
Score: 46 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
35 months ago
Thank you Senator, for giving the opportunity for Apple to tell the answers we all already know.
Score: 42 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
35 months ago
Congress should be looking closer at the Equifax mess nevermind the iphone. Besides, TouchID was only secure to 1 in 50,000(Which I had no idea of) and FaceID is 1 in 1,000,000.
Score: 41 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
35 months ago
Al should stick to his bad comedy routines...
Score: 39 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
35 months ago
new headline: resident old person didn't watch the keynote and is confused about face scanning phone
Score: 36 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

Apple Releases macOS Catalina 10.15.5 With Battery Health Management Features, Fix for Finder Freezing

Tuesday May 26, 2020 1:59 pm PDT by
Apple today released macOS Catalina 10.15.5, the fifth update to the macOS Catalina operating system that was released in October 2019. macOS Catalina 10.15.5 comes two months after the launch of macOS Catalina 10.15.4, which introduced Screen Time Communication Limits. macOS Catalina 10.15.5 is a free update that can be downloaded from the Mac App Store using the Update feature in the...

Leaker Shares Details on 'iPhone 13' Camera [Updated]

Wednesday May 27, 2020 4:27 pm PDT by
The next-generation iPhone 12 lineup coming in fall 2020 isn't out yet, but Fudge (@choco_bit), a leaker who sometimes shares information on upcoming Apple devices, today offered up details on what Apple has in store for the 2021 iPhone 13's camera setup. A simple design drawing depicts a device with a four camera array, which Fudge claims will have the following features: 64-megapixel...

Leaker: Apple to Stick With Lightning Over USB-C for 'iPhone 12' Before Going Port-Less Next Year

Tuesday May 26, 2020 2:31 am PDT by
Apple will use a Lightning port instead of USB-C in the upcoming "iPhone 12," but it will be the last major series of Apple's flagship phones to do so, with models set to combine wireless charging and a port-less Smart Connector system for data transfer and syncing in the iPhone "13 series" next year. The above claim comes from occasional Apple leaker and Twitter user "Fudge" (@choco_bit),...

16-Inch MacBook Pro, iPad Pro, and iMac Pro With Mini-LED Displays Again Rumored to Launch in 2021

Tuesday May 26, 2020 5:30 am PDT by
Apple plans to release several higher-end devices with Mini-LED displays in 2021, including a new 12.9-inch iPad Pro in the first quarter, a new 16-inch MacBook Pro in the second quarter, and a new 27-inch iMac in the second half of the year, according to Jeff Pu, an analyst at Chinese research firm GF Securities. This timeframe lines up with one shared by analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who recently...

Apple Begins Selling Refurbished iPhone XR Models

Thursday May 28, 2020 9:50 pm PDT by
Apple today began selling certified refurbished iPhone XR models in select colors and capacities for the first time in the United States. Refurbished iPhone XR models are priced at a roughly 16 percent discount compared to current pricing on brand-new units, knocking $100–120 off of the regular price. In addition to the 64GB and 128GB capacities matching current brand-new iPhone XR models, ...

Apple Making It Harder to Avoid Nagging macOS Update Notifications

Thursday May 28, 2020 8:13 am PDT by
With the release of macOS Catalina 10.15.5 and related security updates for macOS Mojave and High Sierra earlier this week, Apple is making it more difficult for users to ignore available software updates and remain on their current operating system versions. Included in the release notes for macOS Catalina 10.15.5 is the following:- Major new releases of macOS are no longer hidden when...

HBO Max Now Available on Apple TV and iOS Devices

Wednesday May 27, 2020 2:42 am PDT by
HBO Max launched today, and is now available on Apple TV, iPhone, and iPad. WarnerMedia's new streaming service, which replaces HBO Now, combines HBO content with shows and films from Warner Bros and Turner TV. The service is available as a native app on the ‌Apple TV‌ HD and ‌Apple TV‌ 4K, but second and third-generation ‌Apple TV‌ owners will need to AirPlay HBO Max content...

Powerbeats Pro Debut in Four New Colors: Spring Yellow, Cloud Pink, Lava Red, and Glacier Blue

Friday May 29, 2020 10:00 am PDT by
Following a couple of leaks in recent weeks, Beats today is officially announcing four new colors for its Powerbeats Pro wireless earphones: Spring Yellow, Cloud Pink, Lava Red, and Glacier Blue. The new earphones will go on sale June 9 and sell for the same $249.95 price as the existing color options. Aside from the colors, the new Powerbeats Pro models are otherwise identical to the...

Anker Launches $100 24K Gold-Plated USB-C to Lightning Cable

Wednesday May 27, 2020 12:47 pm PDT by
Anker, a brand normally known for its well-made, affordable accessories for Apple devices, has debuted a new $100 24K gold-plated USB-C to Lightning cable. According to Anker, the cable, which is in the PowerLine+ III family, features a "Special Edition Gold Design" that's "bold yet elegant" with the aforementioned gold-plated cable heads and matching braided gold and black cable. The...

More Photos and Video of Apple's Redesigned Leather Loop Watch Band Surface

Thursday May 28, 2020 10:50 am PDT by
Images of a new version of the Leather Loop that Apple appears to have in development surfaced yesterday, and today, Vietnamese site Tinhte.vn has shared additional photos and videos that give us a clearer picture of what to expect from the new band. The bands come in colors that include red, hot pink, blue, black, and brown, with some of the bands featuring different colored accents at the...