Apple recently announced that it plans to scan US iPhones for child abuse imagery. While many welcome the news as a measure to better protect children from harm, the move by Apple is facing widespread criticism.
Arguably, the main criticism arising out of this move by Apple is that the technology could be modified to allow governments in varying legal jurisdictions to spy on its citizens. As has been pointed out by concerned citizens, the technology is used to search for a variable, let's call it x. What happens when x stops being child abuse imagery and becomes something else entirely?
It's interesting to note that (to the best of my knowledge (though I promise more research on this in the future), the United States does not have a federal law protecting the privacy of its citizens. On the contrary, the United Kingdom does offer such protections under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Canada offers similar protections under Section 8 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, while businesses are required to offer privacy protections under the Personal Information and and Electronic Documents Act.
It was noted by authors Schwartz and Solove in their 2014 article that the United States takes a business-based approach to consumer privacy protection whilst the European Union (and the U.K. although they have now left the E.U.) take a rights-based approach. While this may be the case, I see it as likely that if implemented in the United States, the software used to scan iPhones will shortly thereafter be installed on millions of iPhones across the world.
While any decent human being ought to support protecting the world's children from sexual (and other forms of) abuse, the privacy concerns arising out of this technology must not be ignored. Governments, parliaments and courts must act now to ensure this technology is not abused as a tool to monitor private citizens without reasonable cause to do so.