Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote an open letter to customers this week explaining why the iPhone manufacturer will not be complying with the U.S. government’s request regarding encrypted devices and communications sent on them.
The formal opposition to the government’s request is due to the fact that the Feds are pushing Cook to develop a backdoor to iPhone devices. While this courageous stand against the U.S. government was hailed as heroic by many, the support of Edward Snowden — one of the most renowned privacy advocates in modern history — has helped the story gain momentum.
In his letter, Cook explains that the “United States government has demanded that Apple take an unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers.” According to the Silicon Valley executive, this particular order has implications that go deeper than the legal troubles tied to the San Bernardino terrorist attack. He also describes how the FBI’s requests involving the alleged terrorists’ iPhones represent a danger to our collective privacy.
In his letter, Cook also educates his customers on the importance of privacy — and how it plays a major role in the lives of any smartphone user.
“Smartphones, … have become an essential part of our lives. People use them to store an incredible amount of personal information, from our private conversations to our photos, our music, our notes, our calendars and contacts, our financial information and health data, even where we have been and where we are going,” he wrote.
Private information on people’s phones must be “protected from hackers and criminals who want to access it,” Cook argues. That’s why “Apple and other technology companies” must “do everything in our power to protect their personal information, and at Apple we are deeply committed to safeguarding their data.”
“Compromising the security of our personal information can ultimately put our personal safety at risk. That is why encryption has become so important to all of us.
“For many years, we have used encryption to protect our customers’ personal data because we believe it’s the only way to keep their information safe. We have even put that data out of our own reach, because we believe the contents of your iPhone are none of our business.”
Though Apple has already helped the FBI with its investigation into the San Bernardino shooting, Cook says Apple is unable to ignore “both the basics of digital security and the significance of what the government is demanding in this case.”
He also explains what the government wants — and why Apple won’t comply:
“The government is asking Apple to hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers — including tens of millions of American citizens — from sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals. The same engineers who built strong encryption into the iPhone to protect our users would, ironically, be ordered to weaken those protections and make our users less safe.
“We can find no precedent for an American company being forced to expose its customers to a greater risk of attack. For years, cryptologists and national security experts have been warning against weakening encryption. Doing so would hurt only the well-meaning and law-abiding citizens who rely on companies like Apple to protect their data. Criminals and bad actors will still encrypt, using tools that are readily available to them.”
As Cook’s explanation went viral on social media, the White House issued a statement claiming the Apple CEO had misrepresented what the federal government requested.
According to Tech Crunch, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the Department of Justice isn’t asking Apple to “create a new backdoor to its products.” Instead, Earnest told the media during a briefing in Washington that the DOJ simply wants access to one iPhone. Earnest added: “The president certainly believes that is an important national priority.”
Promptly after the White House’s response, Twitter users replied, reminding officials that Cook does address the federal government’s request, and why it is bad for privacy. As he wrote:
“[T]he FBI wants us to make a new version of the iPhone operating system, circumventing several important security features, and install it on an iPhone recovered during the investigation. In the wrong hands, this software — which does not exist today — would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession.”