IWF urges Apple not to abandon new plans to help keep children safe online

Published:  Thu 23 Sep 2021

The Internet Watch Foundation is supporting calls for Apple to press ahead with new child safety measures, urging the company not to abandon new plans to help keep children safe online.

The IWF has added its signature to two letters from child protection groups, the WeProtect Global Alliance, and ECPAT International.

Earlier this year Apple announced plans to introduce new features in a bid to ensure child safety and to limit the spread of child sexual abuse material.

The company says it would perform “on-device matching”, scanning against a database of known child sexual abuse image hashes.

Hashes are a unique digital fingerprint of known child sexual abuse material. Images on devices in the US will be flagged if their digital fingerprint strongly matches that of known abuse imagery in the database.

At this point, Apple will manually review each report, disable the user’s account, and send a report to NCMEC (the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children).

Apple say this approach respects users’ privacy while combatting the proliferation of child sexual abuse material.

However, the plans have since been paused following concerns from campaigners that the technology could be misused to intrude on the privacy of users.

The ECPAT International letter has been signed by more than 50 campaigners and organisations, including the NSPCC’s CEO Peter Wanless, John F. Clark - president and CEO of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, the International Justice Mission’s John Tanagho, the Centre for Social Justice, Thorn, and WeProtect.

It reads: “The rights of children to life, safety and wellbeing cannot be the casualties of policies that place the privacy of all users, including people who produce, share and consume child sexual abuse material, above the rights of a child in need of protection or a child whose privacy rights have been violated.”

The WeProtect letter was also signed by a range of child protection organisations and campaigners, including the NSPCC, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Sale and Exploitation of children, Ms. Mama Fatima Singhateh, the 5Rights Foundation, the Marie Collins Foundation, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).

It reads: “It is imperative that Apple continues to maintain its commitment to prioritise the safety of their youngest users and proceeds as soon as possible with the roll-out of the detection technology in the US and beyond.

“Time is of the essence: the rapid expansion of digital technology and increased access to the internet have transformed the lives of children and young people worldwide. Yet, advances in technology that have allowed children to connect and learn have also provided opportunities for offenders.

“We cannot simply turn away from child sexual abuse. There is a moral imperative to take action. As the crime is committed using digital means, technological solutions must play a key role in the response.”

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