Apple CEO Tim Cook: 'Weakening Encryption Harms Good People'

Tim Cook, Privacy Champion

Apple CEO Tim Cook went on the offensive to defend privacy Monday evening, going so far as to say that "weakening encryption [...] harms good people." The comments are in response to calls from law enforcement, the White House, and the U.S. Department of Justice to weaken encryption and give them backdoor access to private communication and other data.

"Now, we have a deep respect for law enforcement, and we work together with them in many areas, but on this issue we disagree," Mr. Cook said. "So let me be crystal clear—weakening encryption, or taking it away, harms good people that are using it for the right reasons. And ultimately, I believe it has a chilling effect on our First Amendment rights and undermines our country’s founding principles."

Mr. Cook was speaking at the 2015 Electronic Privacy Information Center's (EPIC) Champions of Freedom event in Washington, DC, as reported by TechCrunch. He was being honored for Corporate Leadership and spoke remotely to attendees.

He also made the argument that citizens deserve both security and privacy, and argued that Apple's customers shouldn't "have to make tradeoffs between privacy and security. We can, and we must provide both in equal measure. We believe that people have a fundamental right to privacy. The American people demand it, the constitution demands it, morality demands it."

These are strong words in the area from an executive from an American corporation, many others of whom have either willingly cooperated with government demands for access to our communications or profit by selling access to us based on our private data.

Apple has taken a strong stance on the importance of privacy and secure communications, and has gone as far as to advertise that it couldn't decrypt iMessage and other encrypted data even if served with a warrant.

Business Models

Mr. Cook also took the opportunity to criticize "free" services that monetize themselves by selling we, the product, to advertisers.

"We believe the customer should be in control of their own information," he said. "You might like these so-called free services, but we don’t think they’re worth having your email, your search history and now even your family photos data mined and sold off for god knows what advertising purpose. And we think some day, customers will see this for what it is."

The last bullet point appears to be a direct response to Google Photos, a free photo sharing and storage service announced last week at Google I/O.

"We don’t think you should ever have to trade it for a service you think is free but actually comes at a very high cost," Mr. Cook said. "This is especially true now that we’re storing data about our health, our finances and our homes on our devices."

The reality is that "free" services are only growing in popularity. Apple has been quietly making consumer privacy a selling point, but it truly has been quiet. People like me talk about it. A small part of the blogosphere sometimes talks about it, but most folk just don't care. "Free" has become the new "It's good enough" ethos that drove Windows to dominance in the 1990s.

Tim Cook told Monday's audience that will eventually change, saying, "We think some day, customers will see this for what it is."