Apple’s move has been roundly condemned by security experts, developers, and civil rights groups.
In response to Apple’s plan to add surveillance features that will scan photos and messages, a group of civil and human rights organizations delivered petitions with more than 59,796 signatures to the company today.
The petitions call on Apple to abandon its plan, which goes against the company’s purported commitment to privacy and security, and its history of rejecting backdoors to access content on our phones. Despite Apple’s announcement to postpone its rollout of the scanning features, civil rights organizations say they will continue to oppose the company’s plan until they fully abandon it, because there is no safe way to conduct on-device content scanning.
The groups that circulated the petitions for today’s delivery—Fight for the Future, EFF, OpenMedia, Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (S.T.O.P.), Restore the Fourth, and Daily Kos Liberation League—as well as internationally renowned security technologist Bruce Schneier, highlighted how this would be a precedent-setting move, and say that once Apple opens the (back)door to this level of on-device surveillance, other tech companies may be forced to follow.
"There is no safe way to do what Apple is proposing. Creating more vulnerabilities on our devices will never make any of us safer," said Caitlin Seeley George (she/her), campaign director at Fight for the Future. "Apple is able to propose this kind of surveillance because of its monopoly power and the stranglehold it has on the industry and our devices. But instead of undercutting encryption on devices, Apple should be strengthening it by fully encrypting iCloud and fixing the security issues with iMessage. This is how Apple should use its power to actually do something good for the industry and the world."
Matt Hatfield, campaigns director at OpenMedia, added "Apple’s decision to embed image surveillance on our phones and iOS devices crosses a dangerous boundary that governments and bad actors will be quick to take advantage of. Any backdoor to our private data will face enormous pressure to be used for purposes besides those Apple intends. If they go through with this, the question is not if it will be misused, but when."
"Apple’s device scanning isn’t a slippery slope; it’s a complete surveillance system waiting for government pressure to expand it," said Joe Mullin, policy analyst at Electronic Frontier Foundation. "People, including minors, have the right to communicate privately without backdoors or censorship."
Alex Marthews from Restore The Fourth, adds that "Opening the client side to surveillance for one purpose, opens it for all purposes. Governments cannot be trusted not to use this backdoor to broadly suppress categories of content they deem harmful."
Today’s petition delivery will be followed by a day of protests at Apple stores across the country on Monday, September 13 (the day before the Apple Event). These events will further highlight the demand for Apple to fully abandon its plan to scan our devices.