TIM COOK: Actually, there's plenty of data the FBI can use to spy on people

Apple CEO Tim Cook has gone public again with a big, splashy cover story in Time, where he talks about Apple’s battle with the FBI over whether or not to unlock the iPhone belonging to the suspected shooter in the San Bernardino killings.

Most of the story repeats the same public arguments Apple has made since the FBI’s demand dropped about a month ago.

But Cook did make one new philosophical point in Apple’s case against the FBI: Law enforcement doesn’t necessarily need direct access to devices when people are freely giving away so much personal information to social networks and other services that store data in the cloud — Apple included.

The FBI claims Apple’s stance on encryption means the company wants to “go dark” and remove any possibility that law enforcement can get its hands on the data of a suspected criminal, no matter what.

But Cook countered that claim, pointing to all the data that’s already available to the FBI.

For example, Apple will give law enforcement access to data stored on iCloud with the proper warrant. iCloud can store iPhone backups that include everything from text messages to contacts to photos.

Here’s what Cook said, according to a transcript of Time’s interview:

And so my only point is, going dark is not — this is a crock. No one’s going dark. I mean really, it’s fair to say that if you send me a message and it’s encrypted, it’s fair to say they can’t get that without going to you or to me, unless one of us has it in our cloud at this point. That’s fair to say. But we shouldn’t all be fixated just on what’s not available. We should take a step back and look at the total that’s available.

Because there’s a mountain of information about us. I mean there’s so much. Anyway, I’m not an intelligence person. But I just look at it and it’s a mountain of data.

In other words, a lot of the data law enforcement typically wants in cases like this is already available without rewriting a new version of iOS to break into the phone. Apple is willing to cross that line. But it’s not willing to allow direct access to iOS.

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