More than 90 policy and rights groups around the world will publish an open letter on Thursday urging Apple to abandon plans to scan children’s messages for nudity and adult phones for images of child sexual abuse.
“While these capabilities are intended to protect children and reduce the spread of child sexual abuse material, we are concerned that they are used to censor protected speech, threaten the privacy and safety of people around the world, and have disastrous consequences. for many children, “the groups wrote in the letter provided in advance to Reuters.
The largest campaign to date on an encryption problem in a single company was organized by the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), a non-profit organization based in the United States.
Some foreign signatories, in particular, are concerned about the impact of the changes in nations with different legal systems, including some that are already hosting heated fights over encryption and privacy.
“It is so disappointing and upsetting that Apple is doing this, because they have been a staunch ally in the defense of encryption in the past,” said Sharon Bradford Franklin, co-director of the CDT Security and Surveillance Project.
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An Apple spokesperson said the company had addressed privacy and security concerns in a document on Friday that outlined why the complex architecture of the scanning software should resist attempts to subvert it.
The signatories included various groups in Brazil, where courts have repeatedly blocked Facebook’s WhatsApp for failing to decrypt messages in criminal investigations, and the Senate passed a bill that would require message traceability, which somehow would require marking your content. This year a similar law was passed in India.
“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 Brazilian chapter of the Internet Society, which he signed. “This represents a serious weakening of the encryption.”
Other signatories were in India, Mexico, Germany, Argentina, Ghana and Tanzania.
Shocked by the earlier outcry following its announcement two weeks ago, Apple has offered a series of explanations and documents to argue that the risks of false detections are low.
Apple said it would reject lawsuits to expand the image detection system beyond images of children flagged by clearinghouses in multiple jurisdictions, though it has not said it would withdraw from the market rather than obey a court order.
Although most objections so far have been about device scanning, the coalition letter also criticizes a change to iMessage in family accounts, which would attempt to identify and blur nudity in children’s messages, allowing them to see it only if parents are notified.
The signatories said the step could endanger children in intolerant homes or those seeking educational materials. More broadly, they said the change will break end-to-end encryption for iMessage, which Apple has strongly advocated in other contexts.
“Once this backdoor feature is added, governments could force Apple to extend the notification to other accounts and to detect objectionable images for reasons other than sexually explicit,” the letter says.
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Other groups that signed on include the American Civil Liberties Union, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Access Now, Privacy International, and Tor Project.