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Apple Urged By Policy Groups To Abandon Plans For Inspecting iMessages And Scan For Abuse Images

Apple Urged By Policy Groups To Abandon Plans For Inspecting iMessages And Scan For Abuse Images
Apple should abandon its plans for scanning children’s messages while searching for nudity as well as scanning the phones of adults for pictures of child sex abuse, urged more than 90 policy and rights groups around the world in an open letter that was published by them jointly on Thursday.
"Though these capabilities are intended to protect children and to reduce the spread of child sexual abuse material, 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 groups wrote in the letter to the company.
The United States based non-profit group Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) had organized the largest campaign to date related to an issue with at a single company.
Concerns about the impact of this new policy of Apple in countries that have different legal systems, including such legal systems where already there are heated arguments over encryption and privacy were raised in particular by some overseas signatories of the letter.
"It's so disappointing and upsetting that Apple is doing this because they have been a staunch ally in defending encryption in the past," said Sharon Bradford Franklin, co-director of CDT's Security & Surveillance Project.
A document published by Apple recently had already addressed concerns over privacy and security in which an outline reason how the complex architecture of the scanning software would be able to ward off efforts to undermine it, an Apple spokesman said in a communication to the media on the issue.
Among the signatories of the letter are several groups of Brazil where Facebook’s messaging app WhatsApp has been blocked several times over the app not allowing decryption of messages on the app for criminal probes. The Senate of the country has also passed a bill requiring mandatory traceability of messages which in turn would require marking their content somehow. India also passed a similar regulation earlier this year.
“Our main concern is the consequence of this mechanism, how this could be extended to other situations and other companies,” said Flavio Wagner, president of the independent Brazil chapter of the Internet Society, which signed. “This represents a serious weakening of encryption.”
India, Mexico, Germany, Argentina, Ghana and Tanzania were among the other signatories of the letter. 
A series of explanations and documents were published by Apple arguing that the chances for false detections are low, following an earlier outcry, which has surprised Apple, after its announcement of the new plan two weeks ago. 
Any demand being made to use the image-detection system for things other than for pictures of children flagged by clearinghouses in multiple jurisdictions would be refused by it, Apple said. Apple has however not said that ti would exit a market rather than complying with a court order.
Most of the recent objections of the plan of Apple have been with regards to device scanning. However, the latest letter also expressed concerns about iMessage in family accounts, which the company plans to attempt to identify and blur nudity in children’s messages, and allowing viewing such messages only after notifying parents. 
"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 letter says.

Christopher J. Mitchell

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