Tim Cook: The NSA Won’t Be Asking for Backdoors (Anymore)

| Editorial

Apple CEO Tim Cook said he doesn't think we will hear the U.S. National Security Agency asking for a back door into our iPhones, at least not any more. In an interview on NPR's All Things Considered on Thursday, Mr. Cook implied that even the FBI is coming around on the need for end-user encryption.

The intelligence community has asked for a back door. They want access into the communications that are going through Apple's devices. No?

Tim Cook: I don't think you will hear the [National Security Agency] asking for a back door.

Robert Siegel: The FBI?

Tim Cook: There have been different conversations with the FBI, I think, over time. And I've read in the newspapers myself. But my own view is everyone's coming around to some core tenets. And those core tenets are that encryption is a must in today's world. And I think everyone is coming around also to recognizing that any back door means a back door for bad guys as well as good guys. And so a back door is a nonstarter. It means we're all not safe.

Robert Siegel: For the U.S. government and other governments, as well?

Tim Cook: For any government. I don't support a back door for any government. Ever.

Here's the full interview:

It doesn't get much clearer than that. Tim Cook believes we need encryption to protect ourselves from the bad guys, even though this also protects the bad guys from the good guys. He's also cognizant of the hard reality that back doors are available to everyone, good and bad. Most importantly, however, he has drawn a line in the sand stating that back doors are a nonstarter.

Of course, the U.S. Congress could compel Apple to build a back door into its communications platforms. That isn't likely to happen in the first place, but it simply couldn't happen without significant pressure from U.S. law enforcement and the country's intelligence apparatus.

The most significant aspect of this interview, however, is Mr. Cook's implication that those two arms of U.S. security have or are coming around on this topic. In that Mr. Cook is the most careful and deliberate speaker in tech exec circles, I would bet there's some fire behind that implied smoke. If so, that's good news for us all.

Of course, Apple doesn't just sell in the U.S. The UK loves to spy on the Queen's subjects, and there's that big country in Asia...what's it called? China. That's it. They have a little history of spying on their citizens, too. Either country could compel Apple to offer a back door or exit its market.

Without a U.S. precedent, that's much less likely, making Mr. Cook's stance all the more important.

Other topics covered in the interview include Mr. Cook advocating for a tax overhaul that would make it easier to bring money earned overseas to the U.S. He also avoided answering repeated questions about the much rumored and leaked Apple Car.

NPR has select quotes from the interview.

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Scott Wilson

Yet they put backdoors in iOS for…. somebody. Jonathan Zdziarski found them. If not for the NSA, I wonder who they put them there for?



The intelligence arsenal of the G8 countries, combined and individually, is formidable and does not rest on one single failure point. If it did, then those intelligence agencies’ incompetence would have cost dearly in far more lives lost than at present, and would be evident to all.

This argument is, and has been, misdirected and misguided. These tech companies do, and have always, cooperated with requests made under due process, a fact to which Tim Cook readily admits. Having a ‘backdoor’ that security agencies can use at their discretion would not only be abused (with or without the best of intentions), but would immediately end up with the bad guys, some of whom are contractors for those same security agencies. It’s a messy world, where lines are indistinct. If one has it, everyone has it; and encryption is rendered moot in an instant.

A very telling interview, especially about the car.

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