By Quentin Choy
Let me start off by clarifying that I’m in no way an expert in technology or privacy rights. However, many of my posts have covered issues regarding censorship, free speech, and privacy in America.
Apple’s Well-Intentioned Proposal
In an effort to combat sexual abuse, particularly among children, Apple announced plans to scan the photo library of users on iPhones.
While this may not necessarily be a legal issue or a constitutional violation, the recent decision by Apple regarding privacy is certainly a slippery slope away from free speech.
An issue I have with Apple’s proposal is that it opens the door to further intrusion on user privacy for increasingly broad reasons.
One of my political heroes and NSA whistleblower summed up this idea on Apple’s decision to CNBC.
“Make no mistake: if they can scan for kiddie porn today, they can scan for anything tomorrow.”Edward Snowden, NSA whistleblower
While the goal of Apple is obviously a positive one, the proposal to scan through everyone’s photo galleries in a blanket manner is troubling.
Without a warrant or just cause, the overwhelming majority of photo galleries scanned will be those of users who have done nothing wrong. The privacy of these users will be violated for no reason.
“Privacy is a fundamental human right… We design Apple products to protect your privacy and give you control over your information. It’s not always easy. But that’s the kind of innovation we believe in.”from Apple’s Privacy Page
While I know that full privacy cannot be expected from a product created by large companies such as Apple, catch-all scanning like this in a casual manner seems wrong.
San Bernardino and Apple’s Privacy Precedent
Back in February of 2016, Apple released a message to their customers regarding the U.S. government’s demand that Apple break the privacy agreement with its users following a deadly shooting in San Bernardino, California.
“The United States government has demanded that Apple take an unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers. We oppose this order, which has implications far beyond the legal case at hand.”from Apple following the San Bernardino shooting in 2015
What’s concerning is that Apple refused to comply with a government order for a specific terrorist act, but is now prepared to do a blanket search of all users for a far less specific issue.
I give credit to Apple for what they did to protect their customers’ privacy back in 2016.
“When the FBI has requested data that’s in our possession, we have provided it. Apple complies with valid subpoenas and search warrants, as we have in the San Bernardino case. We have great respect for the professionals at the FBI, and we believe their intentions are good. Up to this point, we have done everything that is both within our power and within the law to help them. But now the U.S. government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create. They have asked us to build a backdoor to the iPhone.”from Apple following the San Bernardino shooting in 2015
However, I feel that this new, broad proposal to scan users’ photo galleries is wrong.
I hope that Apple will be able to see the dangers of what they plan to do and reverse course, instead returning to the same set of standards they used in the San Bernardino case regarding proper search warrants and subpoenas.
While issues like censorship and cancel culture tie into modern free speech issues, privacy in regard to technology is another realm of free speech that is usually more subdued and under the radar.
Again, as a clarification, I obviously believe that sexual abuse is wrong, especially when children are involved, but the proper search warrants must be applied in specific cases with just cause rather than violating the privacy of many innocent users.