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Franken Concerned About Apple Touch ID

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) is concerned about
the privacy implications of an Apple effort to protect user's privacy.

In a letter to Apple
CEO Tim Cook, Franken, an outspoken advocate for mobile online privacy
protections, raised privacy questions about the new fingerprint reader on the
iPhone 5S. The Touch ID is meant to protect mobile devices, but Franken is
worried that, while passwords are "secret and dynamic" fingerprints
are "public and permanent."

Franken is concerned
that if someone hacked into a phone, the password could be changed by the
original owner, but if they hacked someone's fingerprint "they could use it
to identify and impersonate you for the rest of your life."

He also wants
assurances Apple would never share that fingerprint info with the government
"absent appropriate legal authority and process."

The senator in 2011
pressed Apple and Google on their location tracking software, which led to his
introduction of the Location Protection Privacy Act, which passed the Senate
Judiciary Committee last year

Franken last week
sent a letter to Facebook asking it to "reconsider" expanding its
facial recognition program.

Franken's letter to
Apple is reprinted below:

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:

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

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?

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?

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

(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.