Apple fingerprint tool on iPhone 5S raises 'substantial privacy questions'

Senior US senator address open letter to Apple over privacy concerns for users

Heather Saul
Saturday 21 September 2013 17:53 BST
The new iPhone 5S with fingerprint technology
The new iPhone 5S with fingerprint technology

A US senator has voiced his concerns over the security of fingerprint recognition technology used in Apple's new iPhone 5S, arguing that the tool raises "substantial privacy questions".

In an open letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook, Senator Al Franken addressed a series of questions to the company regarding security issues with Apple Touch ID.

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on privacy, technology and the law argues that if a hacker were to get hold of a finger print, they can use it to impersonate the owner's identity for the rest of their life.

In his letter, he writes: "Passwords are secret and dynamic; fingerprints are public and permanent".

"If someone hacks your password, you can change it as many times as you want. You can't change your fingerprints."

Among the questions Mr Franken posed to Apple were questions surrounding who would have access to finger print data. He asked:

  • Would it be possible to extract fingerprint data from an iPhone?
  • What legal status would the finger print have?
  • How well would the finger print data be protected?
  • Could Apple assure its users that it would never share their finger print data or finger print files with any commercial third party?
  • Do they believe users have a reasonable expectation of privacy in finger print data they provide to Touch ID?

A reward for the first person who can successfully hack Apple's Touch ID is also being crowdsourced on the site

The online 'pot' currently contains $15,000, several bottles of whisky and an erotic book.

Individuals involved say that there is no malevolent intent in the competition. Arturas Rosenbacher, founding partner of I/O Capital - a venture capital firm that donated $10,000 to the competition - said that the site would help the hacking community find bugs that Apple might have missed.

Mr Franken has asked Apple's to reply within one month of receiving the letter. They have yet to respond.

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