Paedophiles could escape justice with new Apple setting, it is alleged

Children’s charities and police hit out new Apple ‘privacy’ setting that could hamper attempts to bring paedophiles and terrorists to justice

  • The feature makes most web traffic on iPhones or iPads using the service secret
  • Private relay uses double encryption so that no company can link a site to a user

Apple came under pressure last night from children’s charities and police over a new ‘privacy’ feature that has been dubbed a charter for paedophiles and terrorists.

Its ‘private relay’ feature creates problems for police and security services since it makes most web traffic on iPhones or iPads that are using the service totally secret.

Even if officials obtain a court order to access internet traffic, there would be no information available to see. This makes tracking and then prosecuting criminals much more difficult.

Private relay uses double encryption so that no company – whether the internet service provider (ISP) such as BT, the content provider or Apple – can link a site to a user.

Apple offers the feature to stop the likes of social-media sites tracking user’s activities online, which they can use to build up profiles and sell them personalised ads.

Apple came under pressure from charities and police over a new ‘privacy’ feature that has been dubbed a charter for paedophiles and terrorists

But police bodies, the NSPCC and ISPs all have serious concerns.

Anna Edmundson, head of policy at the NSPCC, said: ‘Online child sex offences are at record levels with more than 100 crimes a day recorded by police in England and Wales last year. Rolling out features like private relay entrenches the misconception that there needs to be a trade-off between privacy and disrupting child abuse.

‘The Online Safety Bill is an opportunity to incentivise investment in solutions that both protect privacy and keep children safe.’

The Bill, which will give telecoms regulator Ofcom new powers to monitor the internet, is going through Parliament.

A spokesman for the National Police Chiefs’ Council said: ‘End- to-end encryption makes investigating online crimes significantly harder. While we continue to prosecute those who abuse and exploit children online, we repeat our call for more to be done by technology companies in this space.’

It is understood Ministers are concerned about private relay, as they have been about Facebook-owner Meta using encryption.

Apple said private relay is one of many ways it protects users’ privacy. It also said it works with police and charities to address concerns. Half of smartphones in the UK are iPhones, but private relay is not used by all of those, as it requires a subscription.

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