GCHQ former head warns smartphone users to be careful with their personal data

November 28, 2014 - 

Sir John Adye, the former head of UK intelligence and security agency GCHQ, is warning smartphone users to be careful with handling their personal data, according to a report by Tech Week Europe.

Adye said that there should be greater control and supervision of smartphones that feature biometric security functions like fingerprint recognition, such as Apple’s iPhone 6.

Though he is all for the new security features, Adye said that it is unclear as to what happens to individual’s personal data when they use it on a smartphone.

“If you go to an ATM and put in your credit or debit card, that system is supervised by the bank in some way,” Adye told the Commons Science and Technology Committee, which is investigating the use of biometric technology. “But when you’re using your smartphone… there’s no physical supervision of the system. You need to design security methods… which are going to be strong to protect the interests of the individual who is using the phone and the relying party at the other end… the bank or whoever it is, who is providing a service to them.”

Having previously led GCHQ from 1989 to 1996, Sir John Adye is now the chairman of biometric identity solutions developer Identity Assurance Systems Limited.

Adye told the committee that “Apple has done some good things” with the iPhone 6, specifically with “protecting their operating system so it’s difficult for anyone outside to penetrate it and retrieve data from it.”

However, he questioned how long Apple will be able to maintain this level of security.

“Criminals… are very inventive at finding ways in, and although you can protect it in that way on the device itself, what happens if the device is lost or stolen?”

He said there should be greater transparency in how private data is transmitted to third parties.

Some have found Adye’s comments regarding smartphone security ironic considering his former agency, GCHQ, as well as the National Security Agency have long been monitoring the communications of potential suspects via their mobile devices.

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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.