Sen. Franken quizzes Apple over Face ID: how secure is it?

Senator Al Franken has sent an enquiring email to Apple CEO Tim Cook requesting additional information about the Face ID technology the company unveiled on Tuesday. Face ID replaces Touch ID on Apple's new iPhone X handset, and is said to protect user data using technologies that detect the handset owner's face. As Franken puts it in his letter: "substantial questions remain."

Franken's letter isn't aggressive, and the senator kicks things off by saying, "I am encouraged by the steps that Apple states it has taken to implement the [Face ID] system responsibly." However, he has some specific questions for the company related to its technology, noting (again) that biometric data differs from passwords substantially in that it is permanent and can't be changed. Speaking about facial recognition technology in particular, a face is also public whereas it is much harder to casually acquire someone's fingerprint.

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"Should a bad actor gain access to the faceprint data that Face ID requires, the ramifications could last forever," Franken states, also saying, "Furthermore, Apple itself could use the data to benefit other sectors of its business, sell it to third parties for surveillance purposes, or receive law enforcement requests to access its facial recognition system..."

Franken isn't accusing Apple of planning these things, but rather pointing out that they are in the realm of possibility, and so "it is incumbent on Apple to provide as much transparency on this complex new technology as possible."

What kind of answers is the senator looking for?

First and foremost, Sen. Franken asks whether the technical ability exists for a third-party or Apple itself to access and acquire faceprint data from an iPhone X, and whether there's any particular reason why Apple may one day start storing this faceprint data remotely rather than solely on the iPhone X device. He is also curious about where Apple acquired the one billion face images it used in the process of developing Face ID.

The questions continue on from there. Franken also seeks answers about whether Face ID will be able to adequately identify people of color, older individuals, and others. "How is Apple protecting against racial, gender, or age bias in Face ID?" he asks.

The letter also seeks a step-by-step explanation of how Apple has made sure its facial recognition technology can tell the difference between someone's face versus just a photo of their face, safeguards that will keep others from unlocking the handset, how Apple plans to respond to police requests for faceprint data, and more.

You can read the full letter via the link below.

SOURCE: Sen. Al Franken's Office