Privacy Whistleblower Edward Snowden and EFF Slam Apple's Plans to Scan Messages and iCloud Images

Apple's plans to scan users' iCloud Photos library against a database of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) to look for matches and childrens' messages for explicit content has come under fire from privacy whistleblower Edward Snowden and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

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In a series of tweets, the prominent privacy campaigner and whistleblower Edward Snowden highlighted concerns that Apple is rolling out a form of "mass surveillance to the entire world" and setting a precedent that could allow the company to scan for any other arbitrary content in the future.

Snowden also noted that Apple has historically been an industry-leader in terms of digital privacy, and even refused to unlock an iPhone owned by Syed Farook, one of the shooters in the December 2015 attacks in San Bernardino, California, despite being ordered to do so by the FBI and a federal judge. Apple opposed the order, noting that it would set a "dangerous precedent."

The EFF, an eminent international non-profit digital rights group, has issued an extensive condemnation of Apple's move to scan users' iCloud libraries and messages, saying that it is extremely "disappointed" that a "champion of end-to-end encryption" is undertaking a "shocking about-face for users who have relied on the company's leadership in privacy and security."

Child exploitation is a serious problem, and Apple isn't the first tech company to bend its privacy-protective stance in an attempt to combat it. But that choice will come at a high price for overall user privacy. Apple can explain at length how its technical implementation will preserve privacy and security in its proposed backdoor, but at the end of the day, even a thoroughly documented, carefully thought-out, and narrowly-scoped backdoor is still a backdoor...

It's impossible to build a client-side scanning system that can only be used for sexually explicit images sent or received by children. As a consequence, even a well-intentioned effort to build such a system will break key promises of the messenger's encryption itself and open the door to broader abuses.

All it would take to widen the narrow backdoor that Apple is building is an expansion of the machine learning parameters to look for additional types of content, or a tweak of the configuration flags to scan, not just children's, but anyone's accounts. That's not a slippery slope; that's a fully built system just waiting for external pressure to make the slightest change.

The EFF highlighted how various governments around the world have passed laws that demand surveillance and censorship of content on various platforms, including messaging apps, and that Apple's move to scan messages and ‌iCloud Photos‌ could be legally required to encompass additional materials or easily be widened. "Make no mistake: this is a decrease in privacy for all ‌iCloud Photos‌ users, not an improvement," the EFF cautioned. See the EFF's full article for more information.

The condemnations join the large number of concerns from security researchers and users on social media since Apple's announcement of the changes yesterday, triggering petitions to urge Apple to roll back its plans and affirm its commitment to privacy.

Note: Due to the political or social nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Political News forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.

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Top Rated Comments

Greenmeenie Avatar
38 months ago
Hey, nobody is for child porn… but I’m with Snowden on this. Very slippery slope here. And it goes against everything Apple has stood for concerning privacy.
Score: 136 Votes (Like | Disagree)
mazz0 Avatar
38 months ago
Gotta say, I agree with this. I think the slippery slope argument is valid here. In the US and Europe they might just use this for child porn (for now), but once the principle is established it becomes much harder for them to tell the government in China that they can't look for anti-CCP images, for example, and so on.
Score: 98 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Marbles1 Avatar
38 months ago
Awful step by apple. And the 'alert your parents if you view a nude' is some awful overreach but typical of apple's strangely prudish approach.
Score: 92 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Bonte Avatar
38 months ago
It's the first step in total censorship. If Apple can scan for porn, they surely can scan for other crimes and then it's all over.
Score: 79 Votes (Like | Disagree)
IIGS User Avatar
38 months ago

What’s all over? Your crimes?
What you say is a crime today, is someone else's fight for freedom.

No one, I say again, NO ONE is in favor of seeing children exploited, abused, or harmed. At least no on here I would hope. But that is not the point.

The point is, this is indeed a slippery slope. Much akin to Apple saying they will unlock a phone for law enforcement via a "back door". Which, at present it is my understanding they won't because it doesn't exist

Once the mechanism exists, once the door is installed, or the code made part of the basic building blocks of how the machine operates, it's no longer a question of not being able to do it, but when it will be done. At that point, it's incumbent upon the gatekeepers to decide what is and isn't permitted, or acceptable, or legal.

These are decisions made by human beings. Just as humans are capable of horrible evil acts (like exploitation of children) for their own personal reasons, they can be capable for such evil on a political scale.

Today, child exploitation. Tomorrow, someplace where being LGBTQ or pro democracy where Apple does business. Apple has all ready proven they will bow to the whims of foreign governments who threaten to cut off their business (and revenue stream).

When countries like China are jailing dissidents for expressing pro democracy viewpoints (see footnote link), one can only question how long it is before this sort of invasiveness is unleashed for nefarious reasons.

This is scary stuff. Apple is wrong on this. One hundred percent wrong. People (good people, with liberal with a small "l" ideals will suffer and die because of this). I have no doubt.

They say it could never happen here. Wherever "here" is. Well, it can and probably will happen wherever you are. This is one bigger step towards a high tech dystopia.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-58022072
Score: 72 Votes (Like | Disagree)
DanTSX Avatar
38 months ago

What’s all over? Your crimes?
We’re all criminals now. Wake up.
Score: 47 Votes (Like | Disagree)