More than 90 civil society organizations wrote an open letter to Apple, demanding the company abandon its surveillance tool that plans to be integrated into iPhones, iPads, and other Apple products that will scan images before they are uploaded to iCloud for child pornography.
"Though these capabilities are intended to protect children and to reduce the spread of child sexual abuse material (CSAM), we are concerned that they will be used to censor protected speech, threaten the privacy and security of people around the world, and have disastrous consequences for many children," the open letter wrote, which was organized by the US-based nonprofit Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT).
The '1984'-style surveillance tool, called "neuralMatch," is expected to be installed on US iPhones via a software update. The artificial intelligence system can proactively inform a human team of reviewers if it finds a CSAM on a user's Apple device. If reviewers confirm the material, law enforcement will be contacted.
The open letter said the new surveillance tool creates risks for children and could censor speech and threaten the privacy and security of people. It added that governments might force Apple to scan for other images that might be objectionable to those in power.
"It's so disappointing and upsetting that Apple is doing this, because they have been a staunch ally in defending encryption in the past," Sharon Bradford Franklin, co-director of CDT's Security & Surveillance Project, told Reuters.
As explained by FT, here's how neuralMatch works:
Apple's neuralMatch algorithm will continuously scan photos that are stored on a US user's iPhone and have also been uploaded to its iCloud back-up system. Users' photos, converted into a string of numbers through a process known as "hashing," will be compared with those on a database of known images of child sexual abuse.
The system has been trained on 200,000 sex abuse images collected by the US nonprofit National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Another issue described by the open letter states:
Algorithms designed to detect sexually explicit material are notoriously unreliable. They are prone to mistakenly flag art, health information, educational resources, advocacy messages, and other imagery.
... and further, this means "iMessages will no longer provide confidentiality and privacy to those users through an end-to-end encrypted messaging system in which only the sender and intended recipients have access to the information sent. Once this backdoor feature is built in, governments could compel Apple to extend notification to other accounts, and to detect images that are objectionable for reasons other than being sexually explicit."
The new surveillance tool seems like something authoritarian governments (like the CCP) would use. The problem is when Apple or the government starts abusing the tool.
The open letter asks Apple to consult more regularly with civil society groups and "abandon" the new surveillance tool so that users with end-to-end encryption are protected.
Apple's move is a regressive step for individual privacy and is ushering in a '1984'-style surveillance world.
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Read the full open letter here: