Apple and Samsung want to convince lawmakers like Senator Al Franken (D-Mn) that using fingerprints as passwords on phones is safe and private. Fingerprint security has been questioned since the companies each announced they would add it to their phones, and Franken has been leading the charge in asking the tech giants about possible identity theft and overall privacy for people using fingerprints as passwords. The Samsung Galaxy S5 and Apple’s iPhone 5s offer fingerprint scanning instead of just passwords for when users spend money or perform other sensitive tasks.
According to a letter Samsung vice president Cindi Moreland sent in response to Franken, there is little need to be worried, and that fingerprints are not stored on its servers and are therefore safe from people hacking into them and stealing the data.
“The scanner does not store the finger print image,” she wrote. “Instead it stores a mathematical representation of the image (plots of endpoints and curvatures), which cannot be converted back to the fingerprint image. The mathematical representation is stored in a secure part of the semiconductor architecture and cannot be accessed by or shared with external sources. It remains inside the phone.”
Moreland seemed quite eager to make the point that her company wants to ensure privacy just as much as Franken does.
“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,” Moreland wrote.
Apple’s response used similar language to argue that if anything, the technology showed a commitment to consumer privacy according to a report from The Hill.
Franken, in his role as chair of Senate Judiciary Committee’s privacy and technology subcommittee, has been a crusader for individual privacy and safety in electronics for a while now. He’s argued against what he termed “stalking apps,” pushed for the FCC to deny the Comcast and Time Warner Cable merger and raised concerns over facial recognition capabilities in Google Glass. The fingerprint scanning issues fit right in with the rest of his efforts. Despite the letters’ reassurances, Franken said in a statement there is plenty more for Samsung and Apple to do to make their technology safer.
“[B]oth companies have not taken any further steps to prevent criminals from bypassing fingerprint readers with a spoofed print,” he said. “That problem needs to be fixed, since fingerprint readers are becoming a gateway to a range of powerfully sensitive information.”