Apple, Samsung try to ease Capitol Hill’s concerns regarding fingerprints

July 21, 2014 - 

Both Apple and Samsung are trying to ease Capitol Hill’s concerns regarding the use of fingerprint recognition technology in their Galaxy S5 and iPhone 5s devices, respectively, according to a report by The Hill.

Both companies submitted letters to Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee’s privacy and technology subcommittee, claiming their users’ fingerprints are not stored on their smartphones and are therefore safe from getting into the hands of “hackers and identity thieves”.

“We agree with you that fingerprint scanning technology for smartphones can be convenient and beneficial for consumers but must be implemented in a way that safeguards consumer privacy,” wrote Samsung vice president Cindi Moreland in the letter, while Apple senior vice president Bruce Sewell stated that Apple’s technology served as a “good example” of its “commitment to privacy”.

Franken had requested more information from the two companies back in May of this year, to alleviate any concerns about criminals stealing fingerprints from these devices,

“Fingerprints are the opposite of secret,” Franken wrote.

As the executives explained in their letters, the smartphones use a mathematical model to verify a person’s fingerprint and that it’s not possible to reverse-engineer an image of the fingerprint. And that the mathematical model is stored on the device in an encrypted and protected chip, rather than being moved to an external database where thieves could potentially steal it.

In the letter, Moreland wrote that Samsung “has implemented reasonable security measures to protect fingerprint data that users choose to store on their devices, including saving the data to a protected section of the device to prevent external access.”

Franken appeared to only be partly satisfied by these letters, calling the companies’ assurances “mostly good news,” but criticized them for not taking additional actions to “prevent criminals from bypassing fingerprint readers with a spoofed print.” He believes the “problem needs to be fixed, since fingerprint readers are becoming a gateway to a range of powerfully sensitive information.”

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About Stephen Mayhew

Stephen Mayhew is the publisher and co-founder of Biometrics Research Group, Inc.. His experience includes a mix of entrepreneurship, brand development and publishing. Stephen attended Carleton University and lives in Toronto, Canada. Connect with Stephen on LinkindIn.