Device Scanning By Cops Causes Outrage

John Lister's picture

Three cyber security experts say proposals to scan user devices for illegal material will do more harm than good. They've condemned European proposals to deal with illegal collection of child abuse images.

The argument is about "client-side scanning" which means looking for images or other material on a user's device, rather than waiting until the images are uploaded to the Internet.

It's a controversial practice that Apple has previously explored. It appears to have dropped plans to scan iPhones to look for specific images that matched a database in which children were abused.

Although Apple said this would work in a way that didn't compromise privacy, many critics disagreed. Researchers also showed the Apple plans had a serious risk of false positives with perfectly legitimate images flagged as harmful.

Encryption Could Be Challenged

Now the European Commission, which develops proposals for politicians to consider making law, has suggested using client-side scanning by law enforcement officials to find such material. It's also suggested restricting or even banning the use of end-to-end encryption that would make such scanning difficult or impossible.

A research paper titled "YASM (Yet Another Surveillance Mechanism)" has strongly criticized the proposals. It's the work of academics Angela Daly, Kaspar Rosager Ludvigsen and Shishir Naharaja. (Source:

They say using such technology is a matter of weighing up benefits against harm. On the former point, they question the effectiveness of client-side scanning for harmful images.

"Routine" Privacy Breach

They point to anti-malware software that uses client-side scanning to look for threats. Although it certainly detects some threats, nobody seriously argues that it is completely effective and finds all malware.

On the latter point, they say client-side scanning will violate privacy rights "routinely or constantly", creating a risk of harm that can never be justified by the potential benefit.

They also argue that the technology violates several established human rights and could create unfair trials, with defendants unable to challenge the evidence against them because it was gathered through a secret algorithm. (Source:

What's Your Opinion?

Is there any justification for routinely scanning user devices? What, if any, limitations would adequately mitigate the risk of harm? Do you think lawmakers understand technology well enough to regulate it?

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Chief's picture

The ONLY reason a third party may scan my phone/computer/whatever without my permission is via a warrant issued by a legitimate Court of Law.


Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. ~ Benjamin Franklin

dwightlightnin's picture

you think they are not scanning your PC now along with your phone? Warrant my ass!

pctyson's picture

I totally agree Chief, but I LOATHE child sex abusers. Maybe if we put child sex offenders to death when convicted then we could put an end to the destruction of innocent lives.

dwightlightnin's picture

children abusers should be put to death I agree.

Chuckster's picture

Agree with the previous posters, as much as I despise child abuse period, especially sex abuse, and a death sentence would be a great deterrent, client side scanning without permission should remain illegal. Technology as a whole raises questions we've never had to deal with before, although it is the same moral and ethical laws society places upon us in life. The ease in which info or data is collected from, or marketed to us is instantaneous, and we do it voluntarily.

The danger is in the widespread allure and easy ways in which people are distracted using algorithms that seek out our weakest vulnerabilities thru social media, and the many massive databases with our personal information and preferences. People seem to be incensed if you don't reply to a text or email within minutes. We're supposed to put our life on hold to reply vs I'll get back to you later. Emotion has come to rule social media, not logical or uncensored debate.

dwightlightnin's picture

Everything you do is monitored including phone calls. If you think they need a warrant go back and look at the patriot act. They don't need no stinkin' warrant. Big brother can capture your cell phone call and run it through their machine before AT&T even gets it. I believe the program is called PEGASUS. Anyways if you think you aren't snooped on -and I don't care who you are, you are in for a rude awakening.