EFF: Apple must abandon, not just delay, its backdoor surveillance scheme

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) says that Apple’s delay of 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., isn’t good enough.

Apple must abandon, not just delay, its backdoor surveillance scheme, EFF says.

EFF: Apple must abandon, not just delay, its backdoor surveillance plans

Jason Kelley for Electronic Frontier Foundation:

For the last month, civil liberties and human rights organizations, researchers, and customers have demanded that Apple cancel its plan to install photo-scanning software onto devices. This software poses an enormous danger to privacy and security. Apple has heard the message, and announced that it would delay the system while consulting with various groups about its impact. But in order to trust Apple again, we need the company to commit to canceling this mass surveillance system.

The delay may well be a diversionary tactic. Every September, Apple holds one of its big product announcement events, where Apple executives detail the new devices and features coming out. Apple likely didn’t want concerns about the phone-scanning features to steal the spotlight.

But we can’t let Apple’s disastrous phone-scanning idea fade into the background, only to be announced with minimal changes down the road.

To make sure Apple is listening to our concerns, EFF turned to an old-school messaging system: aerial advertising. During Apple’s event, a plane circled the company’s headquarters carrying an impossible-to-miss message: Apple, don’t scan our phones! The evening before Apple’s event, protestors also rallied nationwide in front of Apple stores. The company needs to hear us, and not just dismiss the serious problems with its scanning plan. A delay is not a cancellation, and the company has also been dismissive of some concerns, referring to them as “confusion” about the new features.

EFF flies "Apple: Dont scan our iPhones!" banner over Apple Park in Cupertino, California
EFF flies “Apple: Dont scan our iPhones!” banner over Apple Park in Cupertino, California

Apple’s iMessage is one of the preeminent end-to-end encrypted chat clients. End-to-end encryption is what allows users to exchange messages without having them intercepted and read by repressive governments, corporations, and other bad actors. We don’t support encryption for its own sake: we fight for it because encryption is one of the most powerful tools individuals have for maintaining their digital privacy and security in an increasingly insecure world.

Now that Apple’s September event is over, Apple must reach out to groups that have criticized it and seek a wider range of suggestions on how to deal with difficult problems, like protecting children online. EFF, for its part, will be holding an event with various groups that work in this space to share research and concerns that Apple and other tech companies should find useful. While Apple tends to announce big features without warning, that practice is a dangerous one when it comes to making sweeping changes to technology as essential as secure messaging.

The world, thankfully, has moved towards encrypted communications over the last two decades, not away from them, and that’s a good thing. If Apple wants to maintain its reputation as a pro-privacy company, it must continue to choose real end-to-end encryption over government demands to read user’s communication. Privacy matters now more than ever. It will continue to be a selling point and a distinguishing feature of some products and companies. For now, it’s an open question whether Apple will continue to be one of them.

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 their backdoor scanning to match “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 backdoor 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.

See also: Apple’s backdoor surveillance scheme remains delayed, not canceled – December 15, 2021


  1. I’ve not updated any of my or my families devices due to this. I’ve also for the first time since their introductions not bought a new iPad, iPhone, Apple Watch. I’ve also cancelled my plans for a new laptop and iMac in 2022. So Apple has lost over $10,000 from me just this year alone. I’m surely not the only one.

    1. If Apple doesn’t change its course on this back door feature I will get rid of my iMac and iPhone and go to building my own computers again. Apple needs to change course or be ruined in time.

    2. There almost etc 500K child abuse victims every year.

      Click to access all_statistics_20150619.pdf

      “ What is the magnitude of the problem?
      FACT: Child sexual abuse is far more prevalent than most people realize.
      • Child sexual abuse is likely the most prevalent health problem children face with the most serious array of consequences.2
      • About one in 10 children will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday.1
      • About one in seven girls and one in 25 boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18
      • This year, there will be about 400,000* babies born in the U.S. that will become victims of child sexual abuse
      unless we do something to stop it”

      How about you put a price against those innocent victim’s lifelong suffering. $10,000?
      Sociopathic entitlement much?
      “Not my problem and anyway…this is a principle of freedom” I hear you say.
      Given the horrific figures, do you care at all? What do you propose to combat these atrocities?

      Same goes for every single post below. Mind numbing cruelty.

    3. The upcoming Tesla phone is supposed to have end to end encryption, as well as great, though expensive, signal reception. It will be tough to buy that, because by then Apple would have reinstated good security against this competition and probably would have significantly dropped the price as well, in addition to introducing more new cool features.

  2. Thank you, MDN, for not forgetting about this.

    Apple will be making a huge mistake if they go through with anything remotely like they’ve described.

    Cook either got lax or no antitrust enforcement against Apple or carte blanche from the FBI, CCP, etc. in exchange for this debacle.

    It truly would be an “abject disloyalty to customers.”

  3. “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.”

    I don’t think irreparably but it certainly hurt Apple. They are a company that collects very little data and has made a point to let the world know that privacy is critical for users. Even taking on virtually every other tech company in the process. A super boneheaded move with the CSAM scan. But the consumer public has a short memory.

    1. It is irreparable. They’ve had months to backtrack and publicly renounce this and they haven’t. None of their past marketing about privacy is worth a rip and I have serious doubts that they haven’t been abusing user privacy for a long time already. They will implement this thing by next year, spinning it with massive amounts of propaganda or just slipping it in as an update with little or no comment. It will be a big step towards an international, totalitarian surveillance and repression system modeled on China’s. The ease with which world governments were able to tyrannically lock down their populations for two years running is a green light to Apple that installing a bit of software “for the children” is no biggie.

  4. In the end, it was only mdn with any guts to take a stance, and the correct stance on this.

    All the others. Macrumors, apple insider, and worst propaganda outlet of them all 9 to 5, all, cowered, avoided the issue, avoided taking a stance, and in most instances tacitly backed this evil back door tapping from cowering fear, this evil blight. Disgusting cowardice on something that is really clear cut.

    Losers like Walt moss berg and his even bigger loser replacement swisher, after the winds blow, will dutifully report which way th wind blew after the fact, uselessly too late, but with so much false virtue and consternation, but they were all full of s*** cowering losers when it was time to take a stand and stand up to this Nazi bs.

    And in the end, it was only mdn that stood up for us. I wont forget it. Kudos. And thank you. Thank you for being brave when everyone else were cowards.

    1. Agreed. It sucks that MDN’s subscriber numbers are down for the last year or so. They’re the only tech site I use that has an opinion labeled as such without making the whole article an editorial. They’re snipey AF, too. They get a giggle once in a while. 😉

  5. What a Travesty it would be If Implemented… 🤯
    What a Catastrophe it would be for the brands integrity, credibility,… and SOCIETY and FREEDOM as a whole!!! ( my blood pressure goes up when i think Apple and Tim could have been disingenuous to this degree !!!!!! 👺🤥🤥👺)

  6. Thanks MDN for keeping this issue alive.

    As for me, accepting the risk that I do not have THE most secure system to protect against hackers and all is a bit disconcerting but …

    I have sworn off further iOS updates (still at 14.8.1) and Mac OS updates (still at 11.6.1) until Apple swears off its backdoor surveillance scheme.

    Will you join me?

  7. Tim, pull your head out of your ass, and do the right thing. You’ve done a TREMENDOUS JOB of shepherding Apple with your own sense of touch/style! Don’t screw it all up with this one thing! Hold the line!!!!

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