Apple may have terminated its backdoor surveillance scheme; removes all mentions from website

UPDATE: December 15, 1:46 p.m. ET: Apple’s backdoor surveillance scheme remains delayed, not canceled

Apple may have quietly terminated its controversial backdoor surveillance scheme which would have scanned users’ photo libraries, ostensibly… for Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM), but, as we along with many, have pointed out since the day it was revealed could’ve easily been bastardized to scan for political images, words, etc.

Apple may have terminated its backdoor surveillance scheme; removes all mentions from website

Many researchers, privacy rights groups, and even blogs such as ours, repeatedly called for Apple to abandon its backdoor surveillance scheme, not just delay it (as the company initially did following strident backlash). Interestingly, and perhaps tellingly, the scheme wouldn’t have even worked if it were implemented.

Originally, Apple planned to 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.

On September 3rd, after receiving widespread backlash, Apple delayed their ill-conceived backdoor surveillance scheme and posted the following message atop their then “Child Safety” webpage which stated:

Previously we announced plans for features intended to help protect children from predators who use communication tools to recruit and exploit them and to help limit the spread of Child Sexual Abuse Material. Based on feedback from customers, advocacy groups, researchers, and others, we have decided to take additional time over the coming months to collect input and make improvements before releasing these critically important child safety features.

Now, that statement has been removed from Apple’s former “Child Safety” webpage along with all references to CSAM scanning and the page itself has been renamed “About communication safety in Messages.”

MacDailyNews Take: Hopefully, this is the end of this horrible misstep – one of Apple’s worst ever, if not the worst, since Apple has built a reputation for protecting user privacy over many years, spending vast sums on privacy marketing, only to threaten to flush it away in one fell swoop with this user-hostile debacle.

The Apple employees who conceived of this scheme — or, if conceived outside of Apple (as we suspect), who helped develop it — and those Apple employees who approved of its public announcement, should face a reckoning and a review plan should be put in place, so that such poor decision-making will never happen again.

This was an abject failure.

We fervently hope this plan is dead and won’t be surreptitiously inserted into Apple’s operating systems in the future. We expect privacy rights activists and developers will be watching Apple and inspecting Apple’s code intently.

As we’ve written multiple times since the scheme was unveiled in August, and as recently as late October:

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 management 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.

UPDATE: December 15, 1:46 p.m. ET: Apple’s backdoor surveillance scheme remains delayed, not canceled

12 Comments

  1. Great news, but we must always remain vigilante!

    The employees responsible for this breach of customer security should indeed, face a ‘reckoning.’

    Most likely Cook the main culprit with his Leftist wayward ways, so I’ll repeat what I have been advocating for years, he must go…

    1. I like Tim. He had an incredibly difficult and thankless job following Steve, but he has done very well — except for this debacle. CSAM is horrible, but this scheme would have somehow been even worse. Use regular LE tools to go after the bad guys, but don’t turn everyone else into constant suspects, searching their “papers and effects” without warrants. I think this scheme, if implemented would have eventually ended Apple. Glad they have the humility to correct the error.

  2. To simply use a product should not give the corporation (or government) pervasive access to your data…ever. Freedom should always trump safety. I’m willing to live with the risks.

  3. It’s not a matter whether they did or didn’t. It’s a matter that they can and that they can also block any potential 3rd party App designed to thwart them.

    The system is rigged.

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