Apple Inc.’s use of fingerprint identification with the iPhone 5S that went on sale today raises substantial privacy questions for the company and for phone users, a U.S. senator said.
“If hackers get a hold of your thumbprint, they could use it to identify and impersonate you for the rest of your life,” Senator Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, said in a letter yesterday to Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook.
Apple’s decision to use the fingerprint reader, Touch ID, will “surely pave the way for its peers and smaller competitors to adopt biometric technology with varying protections for privacy,” Franken said in the letter distributed by e-mail.
Teresa Brewer, a spokeswoman for Cupertino, California-based Apple, didn’t reply to an e-mail seeking comment. Last week Brewer in an e-mail said fingerprint information is encrypted and stored securely inside the iPhone and never retained on Apple servers.
Franken is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law. In his letter he asked more than a dozen questions including if it’s possible to extract fingerprint data from an iPhone, and whether Apple can assure users it will never share their fingerprint files with any government, including the U.S.
Franken asked Cook whether fingerprint data will be subject to U.S. national-security data requests for “subscriber information” or “electronic communication transactional records.”
Introduction of the new iPhone model coincides with a rise in cybercrime and revelations that the U.S. National Security Agency has intercepted Internet communications and cracked encryption codes on devices including the iPhone.
The NSA has received user data from companies including Apple under a program known as Prism, according to documents released by former government contractor Edward Snowden, who is now in Russia under temporary asylum. Apple and other technology companies in a July letter to President Barack Obama and congressional leaders asked to be allowed to report statistics about requests from intelligence agencies.
Long lines of consumers formed at Apple retail stores today as the phones made their debut in the company’s biggest move this year to stoke growth.
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