A recent video released by hacktivist group Anonymous presents compelling evidence which claims that Apple’s TouchID technology is linked to the FBI and NSA and is involved in the provision of information on users for a large-scale biometric database under construction by the US Government for use “both domestically and on the battlefield”.
This biometric database is due to be populated by any personal information retrieved by government agencies, leading to fears that Big Brother’s eye is following us wherever we go and whatever we do, even in the privacy of our own homes.
Anonymous alleges that they have uncovered proof of a corrupt alliance of Department of Defense contractors, NSA and CIA-related venture capital which led to the development of technologies subsequently purchased by Apple.
These findings were the result of investigation by Barrett Brown, the jailed and gagged journalist and links to further enlightening material has been posted on the Pastebin website and were largely based on documents obtained by the US defense contractor ManTech in 2010.
So what exactly are these revelations? Firstly, Anonymous claim that there are links between AuthenTec (the company bought by Apple to enable them to develop the TouchID technology) and the “most powerful and corrupt” Defense Department and intelligence community contractors and officials. Anonymous concentrate largely on one individual — Robert E Grady, a prominent figure and political speechwriter under both Bush administrations — when delineating and highlighting the opaque relationships between big business and the US government.
During his time sitting on the board of AuthenTec, Grady was a formerly leading partner in The Carlyle Group, an investment firm which previously owned not only Authentec, but also was the main shareholder of Booz Allen Hamilton, the NSA contractor and erstwhile employer of whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Anonymous presents further claims that the Authentec board of directors ensured that the company would be sold exclusively to Apple, due to the company’s position as market-leader, as this in turn would encourage rival companies to adopt the same technology in order to compete. They state that the launch of the Apple iPhone 5S has meant that secret surveillance and biometric collection has heightened into a full-scale assault on personal data and privacy.
However, other commentators suggest that Apple’s fingerprint security feature may be the thin end of the wedge in terms of biometric collection and consumer devices. Internationally, increasing numbers of countries are deploying biometric technology within organs of the state and rumours abound that biometrics — such as fingerprinting and facial recognition – will soon be a standard feature on game consoles and other electronic leisure products and household gadgets.
Apple’s lack of transparency regarding their usage of data obtained secretly from their customers is not restricted to their newest innovations, either. As far back as 2011 technological researchers were warning that the company could face law suits for breaches of privacy in relation to the storing of users’ locations and other personal information in secret files, which stores location coordinates with a timestamp to effectively map and record the precise movements of individuals.
The implication of this would be the danger this data could fall into the wrong hands if someone was able to hack the system. It is unclear why Apple are storing this data, but it is clearly intentional as such information on the database is being restored across backups and even device migrations. In 2010 Apple was once again the target of claims of privacy violation when a class-action suit was filed against them in a US Federal Court. The claim was that earlier models of the iPhone and iPad contained unique identifying elements, known as Unique Device Identifiers, which allowed advertising agencies track which applications were being downloaded by users, how frequently they were being used and for what period of time.
Users are unable to block the transmission of the UDID, a 40-character string that uniquely identifies each device. The lawsuit alleged: “Some apps are also selling additional information to ad networks, including users’ location, age, gender, income, ethnicity, sexual orientation and political views.” Apple have continuously denied that it transmits user-data without consent, but this has done little to ease fears that the company’s actions constitute an intrusive tracking scheme which aids and abets serious invasions of privacy.