iSpy with my little eye: Apple’s u-turn on privacy sets a precedent and threatens everyone’s security
Apple has just announced significant changes to their privacy settings for messaging and cloud services: first, it will scan all images sent by child accounts; second, it will scan all photos as they are being uploaded to iCloud. With these changes, Apple is threatening everyone’s privacy, security and confidentiality.
“Apple has decided to undermine end-to-end encryption and make all its users vulnerable to censorship and surveillance. By allowing scanning of photos in private communications and iCloud, Apple products will become a threat to their users. The company should take a step back, abandon these changes and defend people from corporate and government surveillance,” says Diego Naranjo, Head of Policy at EDRi.
Apple has just announced significant changes to their privacy settings for messaging and cloud services: first, it will scan all images sent by child accounts; second, it will scan all photos as they are being uploaded to iCloud. With these changes, Apple is threatening everyone’s privacy, security and confidentiality. Although these changes seem to be first applied to users in the US, we concur with Edward Snowden that this change will have repercussions globally.
“Opening the door to on-device scanning of private messages will inevitably lead to requests for more expansive censorship and surveillance, especially from authoritarian regimes. Indeed, on-device scanning mandates are already on the list for democratic regimes who want to undermine encryption, including those in the EU. While Apple is only rolling out the technology in the US right now, it paves the road to mandated security weakness around the world,” says Kurt Opsahl, Deputy Executive Director of EDRi’s member Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).
Child sexual abuse is a severe crime with extremely serious consequences for victims and survivors. All forms of violence against children online and offline must be effectively tackled. Many effective measures to achieve that goal may be found outside of technology, ranging from public education, prevention and victim support, to improved cross-border police cooperation. Undermining everyone’s privacy and security by implementing upload filters to snoop on every Apple user’s private messages and photos creates a dangerous precedent, as client-side scanning and upload filters can be re-used for other dangerous purposes later.
“Make no mistake, the photo filtering technology Apple is adding to iMessage and iCloud is a backdoor to encryption and hurts user privacy. It’s impossible to build a client-side scanning system that can only be used for certain images. We all agree that child exploitation is a serious problem. But it’s only a matter of time before lawmakers and governments seek to use this backdoor technology to filter out speech they don’t like. This system breaks key promises of iMessage encryption, decreases privacy for all users of iCloud, and opens the door to broader exploitation,” says Erica Portnoy, Senior Staff Technologist in EFF.
EDRi and other civil society groups have been warning of the risks of these proposed technological ‘solutions’. Despite the laudable goal to protect children, these changes in fact introduce measures that make everyone less safe by creating a ‘backdoor’ into our private lives. With Apple blessing these privacy-invasive technologies and the adoption of the recent interim CSAM legislation, we are deeply concerned that these practices will be normalised and promoted further by other companies and by policy-makers. We call on Apple to abandon these proposed changes and to step up against corporate and government surveillance.
Image credit: Electronic Frontier Foundation (CC BY 3.0 US)
- Apple’s Plan to “Think Different” About Encryption Opens a Backdoor to Your Private Life by EDRi member, Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)
- It’s official. Your private communications can (and will) be spied on by EDRi