Senator Tom Cotton Slams Apple CEO Tim Cook For Protecting User Privacy; Demonstrates Pure Ignorance Of The Law
from the this-is-who-we-elect? dept
As you may have heard, last night Apple CEO Tim Cook was on 60 Minutes. The overall story really wasn’t all that insightful for anyone who’s been following Apple for any length of time, but what got a lot of attention was Tim Cook reiterating his position on protecting the privacy of Apple users through encryption. Here’s basically the entire exchange:
Charlie Rose: In the government, they say it’s like saying, you know, you have a search warrant, but you can’t unlock the trunk.
Tim Cook: Here’s the situation is on your smartphone today, on your iPhone, there’s likely health information, there’s financial information. There are intimate conversations with your family, or your co-workers. There’s probably business secrets and you should have the ability to protect it. And the only way we know how to do that, is to encrypt it. Why is that? It’s because if there’s a way to get in, then somebody will find the way in. There have been people that suggest that we should have a back door. But the reality is if you put a back door in, that back door’s for everybody, for good guys and bad guys.
Charlie Rose: But does the government have a point in which they say, “If we have good reason to believe in that information is evidence of criminal conduct or national security behavior?”
Tim Cook: Well if, if the government lays a proper warrant on us today then we will give the specific information that is requested. Because we have to by law. In the case of encrypted communication, we don’t have it to give. And so if like your iMessages are encrypted, we don’t have access to those.
Charlie Rose: OK, but help me understand how you get to the government’s dilemma.
Tim Cook: I don’t believe that the tradeoff here is privacy versus national security.
Charlie Rose: Versus security.
Tim Cook: I think that’s an overly simplistic view. We’re America. We should have both.
Same basic stuff he’s said before. Nothing new. Nothing controversial. But grandstanding Senator Tom Cotton apparently flipped out about it and pushed out a statement that shows a rather stunning ignorance of the law.
“Apple is a distinctive company that has improved the lives of millions of Americans. But Tim Cook omitted critical facts about data encryption on 60 Minutes last night. He claimed that Apple does not comply with lawful subpoenas because it cannot. While it may be true that Apple doesn’t have access to encrypted data, that’s only because it designed its messaging service that way. As a society, we don’t allow phone companies to design their systems to avoid lawful, court-ordered searches. If we apply a different legal standard to companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook, we can expect them to become the preferred messaging services of child pornographers, drug traffickers, and terrorists alike–which neither these companies nor law enforcement want. Our society needs to address this urgent challenge now before more lives are lost or shattered.”
Of course, Senator Tom Cotton apparently didn’t bother to read the actual law dealing with the issue of “assistance capability requirements” because, among other things, it says:
A telecommunications carrier shall not be responsible for decrypting, or ensuring the government?s ability to decrypt, any communication encrypted by a subscriber or customer, unless the encryption was provided by the carrier and the carrier possesses the information necessary to decrypt the communication.
So, yes, as a society we do allow companies to design their systems with encryption. It’s in the law.
And there’s a good reason why we do that. Because it makes everyone safer. Again, the idea that this suddenly creates a “going dark” problem where “child pornographers, drug traffickers, and terrorists alike” are able to hide out from the law is a massive exaggeration — which is why the government has still failed to show any real examples of it being a serious problem. Even with encryption, people engaged in illegal behavior leave plenty of other evidence. Even with encryption, basic detective work can usually track down those responsible. Even without encryption, people have always been able to communicate in ways that defy warrants and surveillance orders (e.g., talking in person or writing in code).
The whole idea that this is a big problem is wrong on multiple levels. First, the “problem” is barely a problem at all. Second, those who are attacking encryption, like Senator Tom Cotton, don’t seem to have the first clue about how much encryption protects everyone and makes us safer from the actual threats that people face.