Many people use a cloud-based service to back up their electronic devices including smart phones. This cloud-based storage may be scanned for illegal images involving children.
A recent Daily Mail Article revealed that Apple Inc., the technology company responsible for manufacturing iPhone’s, scans photos uploaded to the iCloud storage system to detect and report images of child sexual abuse.
While the specific detection software has not yet been revealed, Apple’s Global Privacy Senior Director, Jane Horvath, explained what Apple was doing with iCloud storage when she presented at the 2020 Consumer Technology Association conference. According to Ms. Horvath, Apple uses special software to screen any images backed up to iCloud. This image screening happens automatically when a photo is backed up and the purpose of the software is to help screen for child sexual abuse material. Similar to spam filters in emails, the software uses electronic signatures to discover suspected child exploitation. Apple does use encryptions to prevent unauthorized access into a user’s privacy, however, if you are an Apple user, at some point, you have likely checked an “I agree” box and agreed to Apple’s terms and conditions. In checking this box, a binding legal contract is made providing that Apple may pre-screen or remove content at its discretion if such content is in violation of Apple’s policies. Said differently, this means that what Apple is doing is perfectly legal since you agreed to their terms.
Facebook, Google, and Twitter use a similar software called “PhotoDNA” to notify them of suspected child exploitation. When companies discover evidence of possible child exploitation, they can and have reported their findings to the local authorities.
Apple, Facebook, Google, Twitter, and other companies’ goals to protect against child sexual abuse is important. However, misinterpretation can happen and innocent iPhone users may have photos sent to authorities and could face charges. Being charged with possessing child pornography or photos containing child exploitation is a serious offense. In Minnesota, such a charge like this could result in prison time, hefty fines, and/or a felony conviction on your record. If you are facing a charge or a possible charge, contact an experienced defense attorney.