Recently Apple has started scanning all the photos users have on their devices to detect possible child abuse, other corporations are already scanning all the content uploaded to the cloud. Therefore, without asking anyone, they have taken the responsibility to act as a private police on an international scale.

If people accept the principle, then how can they prevent those corporations from using the same mechanism to discreetly scan for political opinions? Can a limit to the police like duties taken by the corporation be imposed in a legal manner? I am not interested in legal approaches that could be taken in the US because this is the country of those corporations, I am interested in what could be done legally in other countries that find themselves subject to the action of foreign private police forces.

Related question: https://law.stackexchange.com/questions/71285/is-apple-scanning-user-content-for-child-abuse-a-violation-of-gdpr

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    I have no idea what you are asking. Can you try explaining it again? You seem to be afraid that countries will require Apple to act as private police, so you want countries to prevent it? Aug 30, 2021 at 13:32
  • @PaulJohnson "You seem asking ..." Please don't play straw man arguments.
    – FluidCode
    Aug 30, 2021 at 13:40
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    I'm not, I'm just trying to understand what it is that you are asking. What I wrote is my interpretation of your words. It doesn't make sense, which is why I'm asking for clarification. Obviously you meant something different. Aug 30, 2021 at 13:45
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    This is one of those Qs like "can America nuke the world?". The real Q is whether countries would have any incentive in putting such obstacles in Apple's path when child-porn is almost universally reviled and laws against it almost always get tougher, everywhere see e.g. developments in Germany. Aug 30, 2021 at 17:10
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    Aug 31, 2021 at 22:50

2 Answers 2


In your example it seems you're not actually worried about police work, but about "big brother" type observation.

Countries can simply make it illegal* for cloud providers to access their customers' photos, or at least require them to ask for permission in a way that goes beyond not clicking a checkbox somewhere inside a nested settings menu.

Similarly, countries can make it illegal* for cloud providers to store photos in a way that can not be accessed by the company (on behalf of the government), if they want to go the other way.

If a country wants to allow scanning for only specific content, countries could task a regulatory body to approve specific automated algorithms, and require* that only approved scanning algorithms can be run over customer data. A country could also demand* that government provided scanning algorithms must be run over customer data.

Since companies are about making money "make it illegal", "require", or "demand" means imposing fines for non compliance.

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    @FluidCode Rights in most countries are negative rather than positive. People (and companies) have the right to do things unless explicitly banned rather than the other way around. Laws granting you free speech for example are not actually giving you any right, but rather about limiting how the government can restrict speech. They have the right because they haven't been banned from doing so.
    – user141592
    Aug 30, 2021 at 15:21
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    @user141592 We are talking about conducting mass investigations without the mandate of a judge. Are you sure this is not banned?
    – FluidCode
    Aug 30, 2021 at 15:29
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    @FluidCode It would have to be tried in court to see if it falls under any existing law. However, laws banning things are often (intentionally) very narrow in scope, so it might not be. The technology to do this is also very new, so it's not unlikely that it doesn't fall under any existing law. There are laws banning the government from doing it, but until very recently no one else could conceivably do it so there was no reason to ban it.
    – user141592
    Aug 30, 2021 at 15:34
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    @FluidCode: Exactly why is it illegal for Apple to access data that you have voluntarily chosen to place on their cloud platform? Is there some contract forbidding them from doing so? Perhaps you'd have a case if they searched data on your device, as it'd be akin to wiretapping, but even then it could be argued that you accepted the possibility when you bought an Apple device.
    – jamesqf
    Aug 30, 2021 at 22:22
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    @FluidCode: and you can bet that if that's the case there will be a click-wrap agreement for new/updated [legal] terms on the update. Never seen that? Aug 31, 2021 at 0:20

In most 'Liberal' nations, private citizens are allowed (even encouraged) to report crimes to police agencies. They are even allowed, within limits — private detective style — to look into the behavior of others to identify criminal behavior. There are, for example, a number of notable individuals and private groups which currently pose as young children online in order to trap pedophiles, groups which are usually tolerated by law enforcement officers.

Apple is a private company, and as such has the same circumscribed freedoms as private individuals and other private groups. The government has nothing much to do with their actions.

Currently, few laws or international agreements prohibit Apple or other companies from scanning your private information for crimes, political opinions, religious leanings, sexual orientation, or anything else. In fact, many companies — Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc — already do this as part of tailored marketing strategies. I believe the EU has put in effect some stricter privacy regulations, but I'm not up on the details. That is a political issue in and of itself, perhaps, because I'm not sure we want to give private mega-corporations that kind of clout. But that's a different question.

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    Not my DV (in fact I upvoted). The slight caveat is that users generally have to agree to such company policies, but it's [presently] really easy for companies to put that in the fine print of some click-wrap agreement. Aug 30, 2021 at 21:28
  • Re "your private information", by uploading it to Apple's cloud, haven't you voluntarily made it public?
    – jamesqf
    Aug 30, 2021 at 22:24
  • I don't think that putting on the same level corporations and private citizens is right. Corporations have more power over the citizens private data, which should imply more responsibility.
    – FluidCode
    Aug 30, 2021 at 22:38
  • @jamesqf Apple's scanner also scans photos which are stored on your cellphone and nowhere else. That's why there was a technical big deal with that whole "neural hash" and "private set intersection" stuff. They are protocols where Apple tries to determine if your phone contains contraband, without revealing anything that's on your phone if it's not contraband. Still, the fact that the contraband detection protocol is technically impressive, does not negate the fact that Apple is running a contraband detection protocol on your phone. Aug 31, 2021 at 14:57
  • @jamesqf And no, information shared between two people, especially if one person only has it in an encrypted form they cannot decrypt, is not public by any reasonable definition! Aug 31, 2021 at 15:14

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