It sounds like Tim Cook is as strident about encryption behind closed doors as he is in public.
The Apple CEO is hailed by security experts and activists for his stance on privacy — arguing that putting backdoors in encryption to help authorities access users’ data is dangerous and must be avoided at all costs.
“I want to be absolutely clear that we have never worked with any government agency from any country to create a backdoor in any of our products or services,” Cook wrote in an open letter published on Apple’s website. “We have also never allowed access to our servers. And we never will.”
According to The Intercept, Cook reiterated this stance at a recent meeting of tech leaders at the White House, where he reportedly “lashed out” at administration officials over the tech.
There’s an ongoing debate about the use of encryption by tech companies. Some politicians and law enforcement officials fear that the use of encryption that cannot be cracked by anyone — even the tech companies themselves or law enforcement with a warrant — means that vital evidence for criminal investigations is “going dark.”
Technologists and security experts counter that encryption is also used to protect vital financial, business and government data, and any attempt to weaken it will leave ordinary people more at risk from criminal and government hackers.
The debate has intensified in the aftermath of the deadly Paris terror attacks that left 130 dead in November 2015 (despite the fact the terrorists used unencrypted SMS messages). France is considering banning strong encryption it cannot crack altogether (a proposal experts say is technically unworkable), and there are calls in the US to do similar.
Last year, the White House said it wasn’t going to try and ban encryption — but it didn’t rule out a potential ban in the future altogether. Tim Cook apparently wants the Obama Administration to go further, and emphatically come out in support of encryption.
On Friday, the Apple CEO and other high-level tech execs — from companies including Facebook, Google, Microsoft, LinkedIn and more — met with officials at the White House to discuss counterterrorism measures.
The Intercept spoke to two people briefed on the meeting, who said that Cook pushed strongly in favour of encryption, asking the administration to make a “strong public statement” against “backdoors” and “defending” use of the tech. He also reportedly “[criticised] the White House for a lack of leadership” on the issue.
Cook reportedly demanded encryption would be on the agenda as a condition of his attendance.
The Apple CEO would presumably like to see the US take a similar stance to the Dutch government, which formally came out against weakening encryption earlier this month.
“The government believes that it is currently not appropriate to adopt restrictive legal measures against the development, availability and use of encryption within the Netherlands,” it said, per The Register. “By introducing a technical input into an encryption product that would give the authorities access would also make encrypted files vulnerable to criminals, terrorists and foreign intelligence services.”