Apple CEO Tim Cook criticizes White House policies towards encryption

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Date: Wednesday, January 13th, 2016, 10:21
Category: News, security

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In spite of how well received last night’s State of the Union was, Apple CEO Tim Cook still had harsh words for the Obama administration regarding encryption last night.

Cook, who’s currently in favor of unbreakable encryption, offered the following statement:

“The White House should come out and say ‘no backdoors’ Cook said. That would mean overruling repeated requests from FBI Director James Comey and other administration officials that tech companies build some sort of special access for law enforcement into otherwise unbreakable encryption. Technologists agree that any such measure could be exploited by others.”


Attorney General Loretta Lynch, in turn, responded to Cook by speaking of the “balance” necessary between privacy and national security — a balance that continues to be debated within the administration.

The exchange between Cook and Lynch was described by sources who were briefed at the meeting, which the White House called to discuss a variety of counterterrorism issues with representatives from Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Cloudflare, Google, Drop Box, Microsoft, and LinkedIn.

While it’s been reported that the White House has decided not to pursue legislation against unbreakable encryption, the the intelligence community’s top lawyer was quoted in an email saying that that the administration should be “keeping our options open … in the event of a terrorist attack or criminal event where strong encryption can be shown to have hindered law enforcement.”

Additionally, FBI Director James Comey has been urging technology companies to voluntarily alter “their business model” and stop offering end-to-end encryption by default.

Despite the growing pressure tech companies are feeling from governments worldwide to stop letting terrorists take advantage of their services, Cook has continued to defend the importance of encryption in protecting all digital transactions — from text messages and emails to bank information and medical records.

Cook has been outspoken in his opposition to the idea that we need to sacrifice privacy and digital security for the sake of public safety. During an episode of 60 Minutes on December 20, he said, “We’re America, we should have both.”

A White House briefing document outlining the meeting stated that terrorists have been using encrypted forms of communication “where law enforcement cannot obtain the content of the communication even with court authorization.”

The briefing asked if there might be “high-level principles” that Silicon Valley could agree on when it comes to terrorist use of encryption — and whether or not there are “technologies” that “could make it harder for terrorists to use the internet to mobilize, facilitate, and operationalize.”

The document also asked how the government could better take advantage of “unencrypted data” such as metadata — details about who is contacting who, when, and for how long — and whether or not there could be a good mechanism to “preserve critical data” and hand it over to law enforcement as quickly as possible, though the document did not specify what that “critical data” might be.

Administration officials attending the meeting included White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, Lynch, Comey, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, NSA Director Michael Rogers, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

The Department of Justice and the FBI both declined to comment on the details of the meeting.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Via The Intercept

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