A fired-up Tim Cook sat down for an interview with ABC’s David Muir this week, during which he likened the development of a backdoor mobile operating system to cancer and argued that the issue was not privacy versus national security, but one of public safety.
“We have no more information about this phone,” Cook said. “The only way to get information…would be to write a piece of software that we view as sort of the software equivalent of cancer.”
The phone in question belonged to one of the San Bernardino shooters.
It’s currently in the possession of the FBI, which wants Apple to disable a feature that wipes a phone after 10 incorrect password guesses.
In order to do that, however, Cupertino would need to create another OS that could open the encrypted device.
Cook argues that’s a slippery slope, and says the workaround will inevitably end up in the wrong hands.
Our phones, he continued, have “incredibly detailed information” about our lives, from personal emails and texts to financial and health data and the location of our family members at any given time. “There’s probably more details about you, on your phone, than there is in your house,” Cook said. “So it’s not just about privacy, it’s about public safety. No one would want this kind of information to be available. No one, I don’t believe, would want a master key built that would turn hundreds of millions of locks.
Even if that key were in possession of the person you trust most, that key could be stolen.”
Cook acknowledged that if Apple could create the backdoor and know for a fact that it would not fall into the wrong hands, it would do so.
But in this day and age of prolific hacking, that’s impossible, he said.
“It is, in our view, the software equivalent of cancer,” he reiterated. “Is this something that should be created? Technology can do so many things, but there are many things technology should never be allowed to do.
And the way you not allow it is to not create it.”
Cook also took the FBI to task for making this battle public prior to discussing it with the company.
Apple found out about the order from the press, he said.
In the weeks after the shooting, Apple cooperated with officials as best it could, Cook said.
The only thing it could not do was provide access to the physical phone.
For example, Apple instructed the FBI to take the phone to where it had previously connected to a network – like the shooter’s apartment – and plug it in overnight.
That way, he said, the content on the device would back up to iCloud, and Apple could pull it down. Unfortunately, a county official changed the password associated with the Apple ID after the shooting, meaning that backup would not work, Cook said.
“I wish [the FBI] would’ve contacted us earlier, so that would not have been the case,” Cook said.
Going forward, Cook thinks Congress should address this issue – if only so that the fight will be in public.
Cook said he would also talk soon to President Obama about the issue.
“This is not about this phone, this is about the future.
I do see it as a precedent that should not be done in this country or any country.
This is about civil liberties and is about people’s ability to protect themselves.
If we take encryption away, the only people that would be affected are the good people, not the bad people.”
Apple has until Feb. 26 to respond to the court; Cook says he wants the feds to withdraw their case.
As for whether Apple will argue on First Amendment grounds, Cook said that’s “up to the lawyers,” but it’s not his primary focus. “My primary focus is, as I’ve said before, is on the customers who will then be vulnerable and the trampling on civil liberties,” he said.
If necessary, Apple will take the fight to the Supreme Court, but “at the end of the day, we have to follow the law just like everybody else.”
He encouraged those who support Apple to speak out. “What is going on right now is we’re having our voices be heard,” but overall, this is a “very uncomfortable position,” Cook acknowledged. “I’ve never felt the government apparatus before.”
Cook’s interview came as the New York Times reported that Apple is developing new security measures that make it impossible for the government to crack a locked iPhone. Cupertino is also eyeing stronger encryption of customers’ iCloud backups, the Financial Times said, citing anonymous sources familiar with the company’s plans.
Silicon Valley executives have rallied around Cupertino in its stand-off with the government.
But the American public appears torn.
A recent Pew Research Center study suggested 51 percent of people say Apple should unlock the phone. Protesters in nearly 50 U.S. cities, however, back the tech titan in its encryption fight.