Apple, iOS, iCloud, Messaging, privacy, security, surveillance

Europe puts Apple CSAM plans back in the spotlight

Apple may have halted some of its plans to scan devices for CSAM material, but the European Commission brought it back into the spotlight with a move to force messaging services to start monitoring such material.

CSAM appears as a privacy test

In terms of child protection, that’s a good thing. Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM) is a much bigger problem than many people realize; Victims of this horrific trade end up with broken lives.

What is happening, According to Euractiv, is that the European Commission is planning to introduce measures that require messaging services to conduct surveys of CSAM materials. However, Europe seems to understand some of the arguments raised against the original Apple proposals by privacy advocates, and insists on some restrictions, specifically:

  • The scanning technique must be “effective”.
  • It should be “appropriately reliable”.
  • It should avoid collecting “any information from relevant communications other than information strictly necessary to disclose”.

Of course, ensuring that the system is “reliable” is a challenge.

Just what is reliable?

When Apple announced its stance on CSAM scanning on its platforms, Imperial College London researchers quickly warned that the technology behind the system was easy to deceive, calling it “not ready for deployment.”

Apple subsequently backed away from its plans, and later introduced a system to monitor such content in the Messages app. This has not yet been expanded to include on-device analysis of people’s photo libraries, as was originally intended. It is still quite possible to erase photos stored in iCloud, as other photo archiving companies do.

When it comes to Europe’s proposals, there is hope that the injunction to create “appropriately reliable” systems will eventually face some burden of proof. While these restrictions will not completely relax people’s minds, as the risk of misuse of such technologies by repressive or authoritarian governments remains, they are at least taking kinetic steps that can rally around an understanding of what the online privacy rights of people on the Internet should be. He is.

At the same time, the European Commission’s proposals seem to threaten the use of end-to-end encryption, which Apple continues to demand protection.

Towards a digital bill for privacy rights

The lack of a clear, agreed-upon set of rights to protect online privacy has become critical as the world becomes more connected. At the same time, Europe is also insisting on regulations – such as mandatory sideloading – that could weaken privacy and security on devices. These two tendencies seem philosophically opposite, but it is possible that when regulators and lawmakers consider the complexity of these issues, they will start to see some rays of light.

I think this is what Apple is encouraging, as it seems increasingly necessary (for the World Economic Forum to agree) that an international standard for defining digital rights be developed. The need for this standard is increasing.

Europe understands that. Introduce a Declaration on Digital Rights and Principles for EU Residents in early 2022.

When that happened, Executive Vice President of Europe for the Digital Age Margrethe Vestager said in a statement: “We want secure technologies that work for people and respect our rights and values. Also when we’re online. We want to empower everyone to take an active role in our increasingly digital societies. This announcement gives us a point of reference. clear the rights and principles of the internet world.”

What should these rights be?

Apple executives have been actively lobbying for frameworks around these rights for some time. Since Apple CEO Tim Cook gave a powerful speech on digital surveillance in 2018, the company has consistently and (mostly) lobbied for a deal on personal privacy. Cook continues to work towards providing such rights on a unilateral basis, but also advocates universality in such protections. Apple has argued the following four pillars:

  • Users shall have the right to reduce personal data to a minimum.
  • Users should have the right to know what data is being collected about them.
  • Users must have the right to access that data.
  • Users shall have the right to keep this data secure.

While we all know that some business models will have to change as a result of any set of rights, introducing some digital certainty should, at the very least, help promote a level playing field in technology.

The need to strike a well-thought-out balance between individual rights and collective responsibility is stronger than ever.

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