With the rise of cybercrime and revelations of vast government snooping, identification technology might finally find acceptance in the market.
Apple Inc.’s use of fingerprint scanning in its new iPhone models could lead more devicemakers to adopt the authentication method as a successor to passwords — and that’s fine with privacy advocates.
The introduction coincides with the rise of cybercrime and revelations that the National Security Agency has intercepted Internet communications and cracked encryption codes on devices such as the iPhone.
Apple said that on the new iPhone, information about the fingerprint is stored on the device and not uploaded to company networks — meaning it wouldn’t be in data batches that might be sent to or collected by U.S. intelligence agencies under court orders.
“They’re not building some vast biometric database with your identity associated with your fingerprint that the NSA could then get access to,” Joseph Lorenzo Hall, senior technologist with the Washington-based Center for Democracy & Technology, said. “That’s a good thing.”
The iPhone 5S uses a sapphire crystal to read a user’s fingerprint to unlock the phone, Apple said as it unveiled the model that’s to go on sale Friday in stores.
Apple’s use gives the technology an endorsement that probably will lead other mobile-phone makers such as Samsung Electronics and HTC to include biometrics in their products, said Avivah Litan, a technology analyst at Gartner Inc., a Stamford, Conn.-based research company. “This is an inflection point because companies are looking for better ways to authenticate users,” Litan said in an interview. “This is an important milestone.”
Before Apple unveiled the iPhone 5S, stocks of biometric makers were on the rise in anticipation the phone would incorporate fingerprint authentication. Over three weeks, shares of Precise Biometrics, a maker of authentication equipment in Lund, Sweden, increased 69 percent and Fingerprint Cards, another Swedish maker of biometric security solutions, moved up 52 percent.
Biometric identification systems, including voice and iris scans, usually are harder to defeat than passwords, which can be stolen or deciphered.
Biometrics could be used in mobile applications for banking and online buying in about 18 months, Litan said. “Banks and e-commerce companies are taking advantage of these technologies and are already experimenting,” she said.
Jennifer Lynch, a staff attorney with the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation’s digital rights group, said there aren’t regulations surrounding the collection of biometric data.
If companies don’t adequately safeguard information they might face action by the Federal Trade Commission, which monitors fair business practices, Lynch said.
But nothing is quite hack-proof, said Anil Jain, a computer scientist at Michigan State University who conducts biometrics research. “If you spend enough resources on it, anything is possible.”