Even CEO Tim Cook is suggesting Apple could be forced to build a 'surveillance OS'

The war of words between Apple and the FBI continues to heat up ahead of next week’s March 22 hearing over whether Apple should help extract data from San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook’s government-issued iPhone.

This time, the words are coming directly from Apple CEO Tim Cook, and he’s warning about a not-too-implausible dystopic future where the government could force tech companies to build software that spies on their users.

From an interview with Time Magazine:

And the way that we simply see this is, All Writs Act can be used to force us to do something would make millions of people vulnerable, then you can begin to ask yourself, if that can happen, what else can happen? In the next senate you might say, well, maybe it should be a surveillance OS done. Maybe law enforcement would like the ability to turn on the camera on your Mac.

This isn’t the first time Cook has used drastic language to describe the standoff between the most valuable company in the United States and its primary federal law enforcement division. In a televised appearance last month, Cook said what the government asked Apple to do was build “the software equivalent of cancer.”

Essentially, Cook is arguing that the legal rationale behind the FBI’s argument, the All Writs Act, is a 200-year-old statue that doesn’t apply to this situation — and if it did, that would be a slippery slope that could require Apple to unlock personal data that might not be related to a terrorist investigation:

And also the [All Writs] act itself doesn’t look at the crime… So this case was domestic terrorism, but a different court might view that robbery is one. A different one might view that a tax issue is one. A different one might view that a divorce issue would be ok. We saw this huge thing opening and thought, you know, if this is where we’re going, somebody should pass a law that makes it very clear what the boundaries are.

Cook’s arguments echo those made by Apple’s top online software boss, Eddy Cue, in a Spanish-language interview broadcast on Telemundo.

“For example, one day [the FBI] may want us to open your phone’s camera, microphone. Those are things we can’t do now. But if they can force us to do that, I think that’s very bad,” Cue said.

It’s not like the FBI and Department of Justice haven’t gotten words in edgewise. The Justice Department has called Apple’s stance a “marketing strategy” and has even alluded that it could seize Apple’s source code — which is information with nearly incalculable value to Apple.

All this posturing comes to a head next week when Apple and the FBI meet at a hearing in federal court in California, the first episode in what is shaping up to be years of legal wrangling.

The whole interview is worth a read at Time.

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