Apple & EU slammed for dangerous child abuse imagery scanning plans

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Security researchers say that Apple's CSAM prevention plans, and the EU's similar proposals, represent "dangerous technology," that expands the "surveillance powers of the state."

Apple has not yet announced when it intends to introduce its child protection features, after postponing them because of concerns from security experts. Now a team of researchers have published a report saying that similar plans from both Apple and the European Union, represent a national security issue.

According to the New York Times, the report comes from more than a dozen cybersecurity researchers. The group began its study before Apple's initial announcement, and say they are publishing despite Apple's delay, in order to warn the EU about this "dangerous technology."

Apple's plan was for a suite of tools to do with protecting children from the spread of child sexual abuse material (CSAM). One part would block suspected harmful images being seen in Messages, and another automatically scan images stored in iCloud.

The latter is similar to how Google has already been scanning Gmail for such images since 2008. However, privacy groups believed Apple's plan could lead to governments demanding that the firm scan images for political purposes.

"We wish that this had come out a little more clearly for everyone because we feel very positive and strongly about what we're doing, and we can see that it's been widely misunderstood," Apple's Craig Federighi said. "I grant you, in hindsight, introducing these two features at the same time was a recipe for this kind of confusion."

"It's really clear a lot of messages got jumbled up pretty badly," he continued. "I do believe the soundbite that got out early was, 'oh my god, Apple is scanning my phone for images.' This is not what is happening."

There was considerable confusion, which AppleInsider addressed, as well as much objection from privacy organizations, and governments.

The authors of the new report believe that the EU plans a similar system to Apple's in how it would scan for images of child sexual abuse. The EU's plan goes further in that it also looks for organized crime and terrorist activity.

"It should be a national-security priority to resist attempts to spy on and influence law-abiding citizens," the researchers wrote in the report seen by the New York Times.

"It's allowing scanning of a personal private device without any probable cause for anything illegitimate being done," said the group's Susan Landau, professor of cybersecurity and policy at Tufts University. "It's extraordinarily dangerous. It's dangerous for business, national security, for public safety and for privacy."

Apple has not commented on the report.