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So the new iPhone came out this week:

Lines stretched outside the door of the Apple store Friday on Hennepin Avenue in Uptown. Customers like Annie Holicky-Michaels just couldn’t wait to get her hands on one.

“I’ve had my old one for about two years, so I just have to upgrade to the new technology, keep up to date,” she said.

That’s a familiar refrain whenever Apple comes out with its latest and greatest digital device. On Friday it was the iPhone 5s and 5c.

“The touch, I had to get that touch pad thing,” said Ryane Binmahfooz.

Among the features that make the phone worth standing in line for is its heightened security with fingerprint recognition software. - CBS Minnesota, 9/20/13

Here's a little info on the privacy setting on the new iPhone 5S:

The iPhone 5s, released Friday, has a built-in fingerprint scanner, which will function as an alternative to conventional passwords. Some privacy advocates are concerned about how Apple plans to handle this highly sensitive data. Apple says it will only store the data collected via Touch ID on the device in an encrypted format rather than in a centralized server. Apple will also block third-party apps from accessing Touch ID. - Washington Post, 9/20/13
But Senator Al Franken (D. MN) has some concerns about the new setting regarding consumers' privacy:

Sen. Al Franken has sent a letter to Apple's chief executive raising what he says are "substantial privacy questions" about the new iPhone 5S fingerprint scanner.

Apple has billed the scanner, known as Touch ID, as "one of the best passwords in the world." But Franken said fingerprints have obvious drawbacks: Unlike passwords, they can be left in public and can't be altered.

"If someone hacks your password, you can change it – as many times as you want," Franken, a Democrat from Minnesota, said in a letter sent Thursday to Apple CEO Tim Cook. "You can’t change your fingerprints. You have only ten of them. And you leave them on everything you touch; they are definitely not a secret."

Franken added that a fingerprint uniquely identifies its owner, unlike a string of numbers and letters.

"Let me put it this way: if hackers get a hold of your thumbprint, they could use it to identify and impersonate you for the rest of your life," he wrote. Franken's office released the letter to the media Friday. - Huffington Post, 9/20/13

Here's the letter Franken sent to Apple CEO Tim Cook:
Dear Mr. Cook:

I am writing regarding Apple’s recent inclusion of a fingerprint reader on the new iPhone 5S. Apple has long been a leading innovator of mobile technology; I myself own an iPhone. At the same time, while 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. In writing you on this subject, I am seeking to establish a public record of how Apple has addressed these issues internally and in its rollout of this technology to millions of my constituents and other Americans.

Too many people don’t protect their smartphones with a password or PIN. I anticipate that Apple’s fingerprint reader will in fact make iPhone 5S owners more likely to secure their smartphones. But there are reasons to think that an individual’s fingerprint is not “one of the best passwords in the world,” as an Apple promotional video suggests.

Passwords are secret and dynamic; fingerprints are public and permanent. If you don’t tell anyone your password, no one will know what it is. If someone hacks your password, you can change it – as many times as you want. You can’t change your fingerprints. You have only ten of them. And you leave them on everything you touch; they are definitely not a secret. What’s more, a password doesn’t uniquely identify its owner – a fingerprint does. Let me put it this way: if hackers get a hold of your thumbprint, they could use it to identify and impersonate you for the rest of your life.

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.

I respectfully request that Apple provide answers to the following questions:

(1)    Is it possible to convert locally-stored fingerprint data into a digital or visual format that can be used by third parties?

(2)    Is it possible to extract and obtain fingerprint data from an iPhone?  If so, can this be done remotely, or with physical access to the device?

(3)    In 2011, security researchers discovered that iPhones were saving an unencrypted file containing detailed historical location information on the computers used to back up the device.  Will fingerprint data be backed up to a user’s computer?

(4)    Does the iPhone 5S transmit any diagnostic information about the Touch ID system to Apple or any other party? If so, what information is transmitted?

(5)    How exactly do iTunes, iBooks and the App Store interact with Touch ID?  What information is collected by those apps from the Touch ID system, and what information is collected by Apple associated with those interactions, including identifiers or hashes related to the fingerprint data?

(6)    Does Apple have any plans to allow any third party applications access to the Touch ID system or its fingerprint data?

(7)    Can Apple assure its users that it will never share their fingerprint data, along with tools or other information necessary to extract or manipulate the iPhone fingerprint data, with any commercial third party?

(8)    Can Apple assure its users that it will never share their fingerprint files, along with tools or other information necessary to extract or manipulate the iPhone fingerprint data, with any government, absent appropriate legal authority and process?

(9)    Under American privacy law, law enforcement agencies cannot compel companies to disclose the “contents” of communications without a warrant, and companies cannot share that information with third parties without customer consent.  However, the “record[s] or other information pertaining to a subscriber… or customer” can be freely disclosed to any third party without customer consent, and can be disclosed to law enforcement upon issuance of a non-probable cause court order.  Moreover, a “subscriber number or identity” can be disclosed to the government with a simple subpoena.  See generally 18 U.S.C. § 2702-2703

Does Apple consider fingerprint data to be the “contents” of communications, customer or subscriber records, or a “subscriber number or identity” as defined in the Stored Communications Act?

(10)  Under American intelligence law, the Federal Bureau of Investigation can seek an order requiring the production of “any tangible thing[] (including books, records, papers, documents, and other items)” if they are deemed relevant to certain foreign intelligence investigations.  See 50 U.S.C. § 1861.
Does Apple consider fingerprint data to be “tangible things” as defined in the USA PATRIOT Act?

(11)  Under American intelligence law, the Federal Bureau of Investigation can unilaterally issue a National Security Letter that compels telecommunications providers to disclose “subscriber information” or “electronic communication transactional records in its custody or possession.”  National Security Letters typically contain a gag order, meaning that recipients cannot disclose that they received the letter.  See, e.g., 18 U.S.C. § 2709.

Does Apple consider fingerprint data to be “subscriber information” or “electronic communication transactional records” as defined in the Stored Communications Act?
(12)  Does Apple believe that users have a reasonable expectation of privacy in fingerprint data they provide to Touch ID?

Thank you for your time and attention to these questions.  I ask that Apple answer these questions within a month of receiving this letter.

Franken has a very good reason to ask Cook these questions and raise these concerns:

Franken seeks Apple's assurance that it will never share fingerprint data with governments without due process. He's particularly concerned about snooping and secretive National Security Letters (NSLs), asking Apple to clarify where Touch ID stands as it relates to the FBI and other intelligence agencies. But again, considering that all Touch ID data is stored locally on your device, Apple never sees your fingerprint information. That means the company has nothing to share with authorities. And finally, Franken directly asks Cook whether Apple's users have "any reasonable expectation of privacy" — the same phrase that brought Google a heap of undeserved controversy last month. Franken ends the letter with a request that Apple respond within one month's time. - The Verge, 9/20/13
And technology experts are in agreement with Franken's concerns:

John Zurawski, vice president at Authentify, a vendor of voice-based authentication tools, said questions like thosed posed by Franken should be asked of any vendor of biometric devices.

Biometrics does offer a secure layer of authentication, he noted. "The ability to reverse engineer a fingerprint from its encrypted digital form would be very labor intensive," and probably not worth the effort for cybercriminals he said.

"The average consumer's credit and identity information may not be worth the computational effort required to reverse engineer," he said.

"I think many of Senator Franken's questions hit important areas," added Joe Schumacher a security consultant with Neohapsis, a vendor of mobile and cloud security services. "It is important for the consumer to understand how Touch ID communicates with Apple regarding use of the service, diagnostic information and interaction with other Apple applications."

The fact that fingerprint data is stored locally on the iPhone is a good thing from a security and privacy perspective, Schumacher noted.

However, Apple must clarify how the sharing of fingerprint data will proceed when Apple rolls out the technology to other devices. "Biometric fingerprint technology is a great form of identification but not the best form for authentication, at least not by itself," he said. - Computer World 9/20/13

Apple has answered some of these questions:

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. - Tech Hive, 9/20/13

We'll see if Cook will answer all the questions.  I thank Senator Franken for his continued work to look out for consumers' privacy.  If you would like to get involved with his 2014 campaign, you can do so here:
WASHINGTON - JULY 13:  Senator Al Franken (D-MN) participates in a Senate Judiciary Committee business meeting on Capitol Hill, July 13, 2010 in Washington, DC. The committee has delayed the vote on Elena Kagan's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court until next week at Sen. Jeff Sessions' (R-AL) request.  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Al Franken

Originally posted to pdc on Sat Sep 21, 2013 at 03:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by The Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party and The First and The Fourth.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Another foot in the door (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    CenPhx, Crider, spaceshot

    accompanied by a promise MADE to be broken.

    They have all your search and preferences history, they have your voice recorded, now they get your fingerprint.

    "Oh....but I have nothing hide" you say. Guess what: You're not the one able to determine what you have to hide given the way they mine and sift data. Many  will end up on various watch lists with various seemingly innocent searches.

  •  If you'd asked me a year ago (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    CenPhx, Crider, spaceshot

    Whether I thought this was a problem, I'd have had some concerns, but nothing major.

    After all the Snowden revelations, those niggling concerns are significant ones. To me, anyway. Jesus Loves You. Keep pointing out others. You're most likely the problem.

    by DAISHI on Sat Sep 21, 2013 at 03:59:17 PM PDT

  •  "impersonate you for the rest of your life" (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    spaceshot, Nada Lemming

    exactly, Senator.  Using biometric data would be the exact opposite of security if indeed it ended up being something uploaded to servers and shared.  It's inevitable that such data will be hacked and stolen, and unlike a password, you can't change it, as Franken points out.

    The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness. -- John Kenneth Galbraith

    by richardak on Sat Sep 21, 2013 at 04:04:38 PM PDT

    •  We've all seen the movies (0+ / 0-)

      where the criminal defeats the iris scanner by popping out someone's eye.

      The iphone 6 will replace the fingerprint scanner with a breath analyzer which will sample your dna and lock you out of dkos if you are too drunk to blog.  It's for your own good, and you will stand in line for the opportunity.  Plus sockpuppets will be a thing of the past.

      BTW we bought an obsolete iphone 5, not a c or s, for some reason, yesterday.  

      It puts the lotion on its skin

      by Nada Lemming on Sun Sep 22, 2013 at 09:42:14 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I just ordered an iPhone 5S (0+ / 0-)

    Should I be concerned?  As I understand it, the print reader stores information locally only (on the device itself) and doesn't transmit to the iCloud or share with resident apps on the phone.

    Is this correct?

    "Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens." -Jimi Hendrix

    by Four of Nine on Sat Sep 21, 2013 at 04:18:01 PM PDT

    •  Which they did. (0+ / 0-)

      The scanner is actually used in conjunction with a pin to a degree. If you reboot or go 48 hours without using the fingerprint scanner, it goes back to the pin.

      This is a ton of fuss about nothing. It's optional, and it appears that Apple went out of their way to make it vastly more privacy-secure than most scanning systems.

      (1)    Is it possible to convert locally-stored fingerprint data into a digital or visual format that can be used by third parties?
      There are prints all over the glass, dust there. Way easier if you're looking for surface prints.
  •  Is Apple the only offender here? (0+ / 0-)

    What about Dell, Lenovo, HP, Toshiba...
    All sell Windows based laptops with biometric scanners. Do you trust Microsoft more than Apple? Does it matter?

    I see the point Franken is trying to make, but why single out Apple, why not an industry wide call-out with some reasonable regs? Bring in the geeks to keep the information in hardware only and not accessible throughout the OS? This smells of Franken going after apple to get some high profile attention.

    The other option is this, if you don't like it, just don't use it.

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