Al Franken questions Apple on Touch ID fingerprint sensor

The humorist-turned-politician sent an open letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook with a dozen questions on the privacy implications of Touch ID.

Apple has tried to allay security concerns around the iPhone 5S Touch ID fingerprint scanner.

Apple has tried to allay security concerns around the iPhone 5S Touch ID fingerprint scanner.

Although Apple has tried to allay security concerns around the iPhone 5S Touch ID fingerprint scanner (shown above), U.S. Sen. Al Franken is not satisfied.

The humorist-turned-politician sent an open letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook with a dozen questions on the privacy implications of Touch ID. The junior senator from Minnesota wrote that he hopes to "establish a public record" of how Apple has addressed these issues.

"[W]hile Apple's new fingerprint reader, Touch ID, may improve certain aspects of mobile security, it also raises substantial privacy questions for Apple and for anyone who may use your products," Franken wrote, noting that he personally owns an iPhone.

Among the questions Franken raises:

  • Does Apple have plans to let third-party apps access the Touch ID system or its data?
  • Does the iPhone 5S transmit any type of information, such as diagnostics, back to Apple or other parties?
  • Is it possible to extract fingerprint data from an iPhone 5S, either remotely or in person?
  • And does Apple consider fingerprint data to be "subscriber information" or a "tangible thing," thereby susceptible to being collected by the FBI as part of a national security investigation?

Some answers

Apple has, in a sense, answered some of Franken's questions already. At its press conference last week, Apple noted that fingerprint data is stored locally, not in the cloud, and that this data is encrypted within the phone's processor. Apple has said that third-party apps can't access fingerprint data, but hasn't said whether these apps will be able to use Touch ID in the future.

An Apple spokesman also told the Wall Street Journal that Touch ID doesn't store actual fingerprint images, just "fingerprint data." That means hackers would have a tough time reverse-engineering fingerprints even if they had access to the iPhone's encrypted processor. (That's not stopping them; quite a number of parties have pooled together to provide a bounty for whoever manages to hack Touch ID.)

Still, it's understandable that Franken would want to get Apple on the record with clear answers to privacy questions. Although fingerprint scanning isn't new, the popularity of the iPhone means it's about to become a lot more accessible. The questions are worth asking even if most users will never be affected by security issues. Whether Apple feels compelled to respond to Franken is another question.

In the meantime, there's an easy solution for users who are unnerved by Touch ID: Simply don't set it up, and use a PIN instead.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Appleiphone 5sApple Phonessecuritymobile securityfingerprint scannerfbiprivacy

More about AppleFBIWall Street

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Jared Newman

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    IDG Live Webinar:The right collaboration strategy will help your business take flight

    Speakers - Mike Harris, Engineering Services Manager, Jetstar - Christopher Johnson, IT Director APAC, 20th Century Fox - Brent Maxwell, Director of Information Systems, THE ICONIC - IDG MC/Moderator Anthony Caruana

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place