BY DAVE PRICE
Daily Post Editor
Apple has announced plans to scan iPhones for images of child sexual abuse and report offenders to law enforcement.
Child protection groups cheered the decision. But I worry that this new tool, called “NeuralHash” will be misused by government.
What if you uploaded photographs that law enforcement believes are anti-government? What if you visited your grandfather in the South and his Confederate flag happened to be in a photo you took? What if you were in a Black Lives Matter protest and you snapped a picture of a fellow protester?
You might say, “That’s ridiculous — those things aren’t illegal.”
Not yet. But laws are constantly changing. And our elected officials have much less respect for privacy than they did five, 10, 20 or 50 years ago.
Apple is introducing NeuralHash under the guise that it will catch creeps who traffic in child pornography. We can all agree that those people are terrible. And by targeting this bad element in society, Apple has a choir of supporters who will sing the praises of NeuralHash and criticize anyone who raises questions about it.
Constitution doesn’t apply
One of the many problems with NeuralHash is that it eliminates the Constitutional protection against unreasonable searches enshrined in the Fourth Amendment. With NeuralHash, the government outsources the search to Apple, which isn’t restrained by the constitution.
If the government were to search your phone, it would have to obtain a warrant from a judge by demonstrating that there was probable cause for such a search. Apple doesn’t need to worry about probable cause because the Constitution doesn’t apply to a company’s relationship with its customers. Apple will search everything uploaded to the iCloud and turn over anything questionable to law enforcement.
Apple CEO Tim Cook is allowing his company to become an agent of law enforcement, but without the rules that normally apply to law enforcement.
And now it’s becoming clear that Apple will do just about anything a government asks. According to a May 17 article in the New York Times, Apple has just completed a quarter-mile long building in a southwestern province of China where Communist Party officials will have access to all data and photographs stored by Apple’s customers in China.
As the Times story put it, “Cook often talks about Apple’s commitment to civil liberties and privacy. But to stay on the right side of Chinese regulators, his company has put the data of its Chinese customers at risk and has aided government censorship in the Chinese version of its App Store.”
Of course that would never happen here in the U.S., right? Remember how Apple refused to give the FBI the tools to unlock the iPhone of the terrorist involved in the killing of 14 people in San Bernardino in 2015?
That made it seem as if Apple was on the side of consumer privacy. Not really. In 2013, Edward Snowden released documents showing Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook were providing the National Security Agency with direct access to their supposedly private servers as part of a secret program called Prism.
But I don’t break laws?
You might be saying, “I don’t care if Apple checks my photos because I haven’t broken any laws.”
Matthew Green, a top cryptography researcher at Johns Hopkins University, told the Associated Press that NeuralHash could be used to frame innocent people by sending them seemingly innocuous images designed to trigger matches for child pornography. That could fool Apple’s algorithm and alert law enforcement. “Researchers have been able to do this pretty easily,” he said of the ability to trick such systems.
I also wonder how effective NeuralHash will be at catching those who traffic in child pornography. Knowing that Apple is monitoring them, they’ll move to other devices and other parts of the internet where they won’t get caught.
You’ve got to wonder how Steve Jobs, who died in 2011, would have handled this situation. Would he have allowed his company to become an agent of law enforcement?
That loud sound you hear on Arastradero Road outside the Alta Mesa cemetery is Jobs spinning in his grave.
Editor Dave Price’s column appears on Mondays. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.