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Privacy advocates urge Apple to scrap its plan to scan phones for images of child sexual abuse

Thousands have petitioned the company to halt the plan based on its potential for misuse

Photo (c) DestroLove - Getty Images
In an open letter to Apple, thousands of security and tech privacy advocates pushed back against Apple’s plan to scan iPhones for images of child sexual abuse. 

Apple recently announced a plan to use technology capable of searching for matches of “Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM)” in images stored on iCloud. The company claimed the accuracy of its system “ensures less than a one in one trillion chance per year of incorrectly flagging a given account.” 

But as of Monday evening, nearly three dozen organizations and over 6,600 individuals (ranging from cryptographers and researchers to security and legal experts) had signed the open letter urging Apple not to go through with its plan to use the tech.

Critics cite privacy risks 

Apple said last week that it’s main goal in employing the system was to “protect children from predators.” The company said user privacy would be kept at the forefront. 

“Instead of scanning images in the cloud, the system performs on-device matching using a database of known CSAM image hashes provided by NCMEC and other child safety organizations,” Apple said in a statement announcing the new policy. “Apple further transforms this database into an unreadable set of hashes that is securely stored on users’ devices.”

However, critics argue that the system could be exploited by authoritarian governments or even make it possible for malicious parties to open a “backdoor” for wider surveillance. 

“While child exploitation is a serious problem, and while efforts to combat it are almost unquestionably well-intentioned, Apple's proposal introduces a backdoor that threatens to undermine fundamental privacy protections for all users of Apple products,” the letter reads.

The signatories request that Apple table its proposed policy and issue a statement “reaffirming their commitment to end-to-end encryption and user privacy.”

“Apple's current path threatens to undermine decades of work by technologists, academics and policy advocates towards strong privacy-preserving measures being the norm across a majority of consumer electronic devices and use cases,” the letter said. “We ask that Apple reconsider its technology rollout, lest it undo that important work.”

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