Apple chief executive Tim Cook has challenged the US government to adopt a policy of “no backdoors” in its approach to the encryption technology used by his company and other technology firms.
Cook made his comments at a recent meeting between US administration officials and technology companies including Facebook, Google, Microsoft, LinkedIn, Twitter, Dropbox and Cloudflare as well as Apple.
According to The Intercept, Cook “lashed out” at suggestions that the encryption technology being used by these companies might have ‘backdoors’ built in, to combat terrorist use of encrypted communications.
The Intercept’s report hints at a spirited exchange between Cook and US attorney general Loretta Lynch, who its sources claim responded to the Apple CEO’s comments with a warning about the need for “balance” between privacy and national security.
Clashes between Apple and US agencies over encryption are not new. In September 2015, the company said it could not comply with a court order to hand over texts sent using iMessage between two iPhones, because of iMessage’s encryption.
FBI director James Comey criticised Apple in September 2014, meanwhile, for the inclusion of end-to-end encryption in the iMessage system.
“The notion that someone would market a closet that could never be opened – even if it involves a case involving a child kidnapper and a court order – to me does not make any sense,” said Comey at the time, before voicing similar views about the encryption used in Google’s Android software.
Cook’s stance on privacy will have come as no surprise to the US government this week. In February 2015 he warned of the “dire consequences” of sacrificing the right to privacy in a speech at a cybersecurity summit organised by the White House.
Then, in June 2015, Cook defended strong-encryption technology in a speech in Washington. “Some in Washington are hoping to undermine the ability of ordinary citizens to encrypt their data. We think this is incredibly dangerous. If you put a key under the mat for the cops, a burglar can find it, too,” he said.
“Criminals are using every technology tool at their disposal to hack into people’s accounts. If they know there’s a key hidden somewhere, they won’t stop until they find it. Removing encryption tools from our products altogether, as some in Washington would like us to do, would only hurt law-abiding citizens who rely on us to protect their data.”
In the wake of the Paris attacks in late 2015, Apple teamed up with Microsoft, Google, Samsung, Twitter, Facebook and 56 other technology companies to reject calls for weakening encryption.
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