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Tim Cook Washington Post Interview And Encryption (@jenamcgregor)

A wide-ranging interview with Tim Cook this past weekend at the Washington Post, with a look back on the encryption fight with the FBI:

With the fight with the FBI, did you have any idea what you were getting into? The lightbulb went off, and it became clear what was right when we did the first piece of work: Could we create a tool to unlock the phone? After a few days, we had determined yes, we could. Then the question was, ethically, should we?… The risk of what happens if it got out, we felt, could be incredibly terrible for public safety.

We knew the positioning on the outside would not be public safety. It would be security vs. privacy — security should win. But we went through the deep, deep, deep discussions on that. It became clear that the trade-off, so to speak, was essentially putting hundreds of millions of people at risk for a phone that may or may not have anything on it, and that likely didn’t, because of other things that we knew about. We thought this actually is a clear decision. A hard one, but a clear one. Then it became more of a matter of how do we explain this. Because this is not easy. You can imagine. You just hear: locked phone. Terrorist. People dead. Why aren’t you unlocking this?

The optics of the situation was exploited by the FBI, for sure. I give Apple credit for making the decision to take this on knowing that public perception could have easily turned against the company for doing it.

Did the FBI fight change how you view the mandate of your job? Customers should have an expectation that they shouldn’t need a PhD in computer science to protect themselves. So I think they depend on us to do some things on their behalf. So with that responsibility comes an obligation to stand up. And, in this case, it was unbelievably uncomfortable and not something that we wished for, wanted — we didn’t even think it was right. Honestly? I was shocked that they would even ask for this. That was the thing that was so disappointing that I think everybody lost in the whole thing. There are 200-plus other countries in the world. Zero of them had ever asked this.

It’s easy to be cynical about any large company’s motives. We assume big corporations are always profit-driven, or complying with regulations… anything to keep them humming along without jeopardizing their ability to continue making money. But Apple had a lot to lose in this battle with the FBI when they took what was truly a principled stand.

The privacy vs. security debate will come up again, and it’s still not clear how the privacy vs. marketing debate (vis-à-vis how companies like Google and Facebook mine and reveal information about us, compared to Apple’s clear stance against this) will play out. But it would be hard for anyone to argue that Apple is not doing what they believe is right on these issues.

Categories    Apple    Technology    Politics    Encryption