EFF: Delays aren’t good enough; Apple must abandon its surveillance plans

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has eschewed Apple’s plan to delay a controversial backdoor to scan users’ photo libraries, ostensibly for Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM), but which could easily be bastardized to scan for political images, words, etc.

iPhone backdoor

Cindy Kohn for Electronic Frontier Foundation:

Apple announced today that it would “take additional time over the coming months to collect input and make improvements” to a program that will weaken privacy and security on iPhones and other products. EFF is pleased Apple is now listening to the concerns of customers, researchers, civil liberties organizations, human rights activists, LGBTQ people, youth representatives, and other groups, about the dangers posed by its phone scanning tools. But the company must go further than just listening, and drop its plans to put a backdoor into its encryption entirely.

The features Apple announced a month ago, intending to help protect children, would create an infrastructure that is all too easy to redirect to greater surveillance and censorship. These features would create an enormous danger to iPhone users’ privacy and security, offering authoritarian governments a new mass surveillance system to spy on citizens. They also put already vulnerable kids at risk, especially LGBTQ youth, and create serious potential for danger to children in abusive households.

The responses to Apple’s plans have been damning: over 90 organizations across the globe have urged the company not to implement them, for fear that they would lead to the censoring of protected speech, threaten the privacy and security of people around the world, and have disastrous consequences for many children. This week, EFF’s petition to Apple demanding they abandon their plans reached 25,000 signatures. This is in addition to other petitions by groups such as Fight for the Future and OpenMedia, totalling well over 50,000 signatures. The enormous coalition that has spoken out will continue to demand that user phones—both their messages and their photos—be protected, and that the company maintain its promise to provide real privacy to its users.

MacDailyNews Take: Originally Apple would use one database of hashes from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).

Then, after outcry, Apple changed that to “two or more child safety organizations operating in separate sovereign jurisdictions.”

Of course, Apple’s multi-country “safeguard” is no safeguard at all.

The Five Eyes (FVEY) is an intelligence alliance comprising the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. These countries are parties to the multilateral UKUSA Agreement, a treaty for joint cooperation in signals intelligence.

The FVEY further expanded their surveillance capabilities during the course of the “war on terror,” with much emphasis placed on monitoring the World Wide Web. The former NSA contractor Edward Snowden described the Five Eyes as a “supra-national intelligence organization that does not answer to the known laws of its own countries.”

Documents leaked by Snowden in 2013 revealed that the FVEY has been spying on one another’s citizens and sharing the collected information with each other in order to circumvent restrictive domestic regulations on surveillance of citizens.

Apple’s claim to scan only for CSAM was intended to be a trojan horse, introduced via the hackneyed Think of the Children™ ruse, that would be bastardized in secret for all sorts of surveillance under the guise of “safety” in the future.

Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety. — Benjamin Franklin

The fact that Apple ever considered this travesty in the first place, much less announced and tried to implement it in the fashion they did, has damaged the company’s reputation for protecting user privacy immensely; perhaps irreparably.

Hopefully, if Apple has any sense whatsoever, is not hopelessly compromised, and can resist whatever pressure forced them into this ill-considered abject disloyalty to customers who value their privacy and security, the company will end this disastrous scheme promptly and double-down on privacy by finally and immediately enabling end-to-end encryption of iCloud backups as a company which claims to be a champion of privacy would have done many years ago.

22 Comments

  1. In a world where those who are elected to represent us are seizing upon every opportunity to instead control us, and those who are supposed to inform us are lying to us, while those tasked with protecting us are gifting our enemies war machines, while seeking to disarm, and make war on us, it is beyond disquieting that Apple seems ever more in sync with burgeoning global tyranny.

    They need to understand, their fucking ecosystem is nice, but we can live without it. We can live without their overly expensive bugged phones, their STILL underpowered laptops and desktops, their purposefully hobbled tablets, and especially their (who asked for it anyway) car. Their are always alternatives.

    1. In some first early searching – motivated by the same concerns you have – I read (and saw on YT) that something like Manjaro is also worth considering, as it seems it has a very good package manager (for software) because of the linux group it belongs to. You happen to have any insights on that perhaps?

      Am considering a fanless PC at some point, an old dream. 🙂

      1. Manjaro is an Arch based distribution. As I understand it, it’s kind of raw when you get it, and you select the apps and other components yourself. This has appeal for building a sort of custom distribution targeted at certain types of users who don’t need lots of crap. Like you could create a system targeted specifically at productivity or development or security/network work.

        I kinda zeroed in on elementary OS because it is such a blatant macOS ripoff that I figure I could sit a system in front of a Mac user and they could hit the ground running.

        With LINUX there is no centralized government. No Apple looking over your shoulder.

        You get to kinda return to the good old days of clean systems without a lot of crap. Fun learning again. Almost everything is freeeeeeeeeee! Easy to use package managers. No App Store guarded by the woke police.

        Some of the same problems as Apple in terms of gaming, but security is also high as in security through obscurity.

        1. That is great feedback, thanks. Sounds like Elementary OS will be a good beachhead for first landing on Linux land.

          As to games, what I’ve gathered so far is that there seems to be some streaming options for game play, as well as playing in a windows VM for example. Also there is talk now of what is a handheld gaming device – called Steam Deck – that gets some people excited. That device runs on Linux, so perhaps there are some desktop ports on the horizon?

          My feeling at the moment is that VM’s or dual booting into windows seems to be the way to go for now, but who knows.

        2. Thanks for the elementary OS ref. It sounds like it’s progressing well (challenging the “tool kit” standard), but it’s far from a consumer-based release.

          I wish it wasn’t so. As well, I wish Apple would have a reawakening and pursue real privacy, ditch the curation for the customer and return to the F-Wallstreet mindset.

        3. Also consider Linux Mint. I prefer the Debian edition. It’s already running on one of my Macs, just waiting for an M1 version to be ready before macOS gets blown away permanently.

          https://linuxmint.com/

          And for phones, I recommend GrapheneOS. I’m running it on a Pixel and it’s fantastic.

          http://grapheneos.org

          You are quite right, we don’t need Apple.

          Oh and for gaming, I have a Switch and a Steam Deck as soon as they are released. I don’t need to game on my phone or computer, I prefer consoles.

        4. And here is a link to LMDE:

          https://linuxmint.com/download_lmde.php

          Linux Mint’s slogan is “from freedom came elegance” and it’s quite right. It’s a beautiful distribution and quite easy to use and install. They have a TimeShift feature that uses snapshots of the system in case you need to restore for any reason. And you can set updates to happen automatically.

  2. This is correct.

    Apple has to abandon the on device part. They can scan everything they want on iCloud servers to their hearts content. It’s their server they can do that. But it’s our phone, stop putting spyware and back doors on our phone. Until they relent with this madness, I am going to continue to look for an alternative.

    If Apple promises not to put any on device crap like this on currently and in the future, and apologize, I will actually appreciate it and probably come back to Apple. In the meantime I’m looking at other systems.

    1. If it’s just related to iCloud then you can opt out of iCloud as I did from the very beginning. But to place a tool on a device is worse than what Sony did when trying to protect their music empire just after the turn of the century. It’s akin to what LG did (does?) with their TVs.

      The bottom line is this, you cannot trust companies to have your best interests at heart. They have their own agenda and it is quite often at odds with what is best for you and me. Just because it’s Apple doesn’t mean anything at all. And my proof for this is what we’re talking about at this very time.

  3. That is great feedback, thanks. Sounds like Elementary OS will be a good beachhead for first landing on Linux land.

    As to games, what I’ve gathered so far is that there seems to be some streaming options for game play, as well as playing in a windows VM for example. Also there is talk now of what is a handheld gaming device – called Steam Deck – that gets some people excited. That device runs on Linux, so perhaps there are some desktop ports on the horizon?

    My feeling at the moment is that VM’s or dual booting into windows seems to be the way to go for now, but who knows.

  4. “But the company must go further than just listening, and drop its plans to put a backdoor into its encryption entirely.”

    “The features Apple announced a month ago, intending to help protect children, would create an infrastructure that is all too easy to redirect to greater surveillance and censorship.”

    Amen and Amen. Article and MDN Take says it all…

    1. so true, Apple didn’t expect the grassroots backlash to be so vocal and now their P/E ratio is being slightly put at risk. Apple is the master of PR and spin, so they are delaying the backdoor lock and key until after the iPhone 13 launch. Then they will quietly sneak in a few new features.

      When questioning the motives of the Apple corporation in 2021, most often, follow the money, then you will get your answer.

      A backdoor into the iPhone/apple ecosystem is the number one feature request of the CCP.

  5. Your phone calls have been listened to and tracked since 9/11 – how quick we forget, there are surveillance cameras on every street corner and traffic lights – you people are truly delusional if you think this initiative is something NEW, additionally FB / IG / GOOG,TWTR, SNAP, etc have been doing this and tracking you for years and selling your information for profit – that is where your issue should be, but no that would require intellectual historic perspective.

    1. All you posted is true for the most part — but not the topic. What people are up in arms about is a Apple SPYING, BACKDOOR and complete REVERSAL of PRIVACY. What part do you not understand?…🤔

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