- Apple CEO Tim Cook was interviewed by the visiting Harvard professor Nancy Gibbs at the Time 100 event on Tuesday.
- Gibbs asked Cook about privacy because of Apple‘s privacy battle with the Justice Department over assisting the FBI in unlocking an iPhone.
- Cook said he wished the case went to court, calling it “a very rigged case to begin with.”
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In an interview with the visiting Harvard professor Nancy Gibbs at the Time 100 event on Tuesday, Apple CEO Tim Cook said he wished his company’s fight with the FBI over the ability to unlock an iPhone had actually gone to court.
“Our battle was over whether or not the government could force Apple to create a tool that could put hundreds of millions of people at risk in order to get into a phone — and we said no, the law does not support the government having the authority to do that,” Cook told Gibbs.
In December 2015, the FBI obtained an iPhone 5C used by one of the two people behind the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, that killed 14 people and injured 22 others. The police killed the two attackers in a shootout, and the FBI was unable to get into the password-protected phone it recovered.
The National Security Agency was unable to unlock it, however, so the FBI asked Apple to help build a new operating system that could be installed on the phone and disable its security features — something Cook at the time called the “software equivalent of cancer.”
Apple opposed the request, citing the security and privacy risks it would pose to other customers, and a hearing was scheduled for March 22.
But just one day before the scheduled hearing, the government said it found a third party that could help unlock the iPhone, and it delayed the hearing. The FBI formally withdrew its request to Apple one week later.
“I wish that case went to court, to be honest,” Cook said on Tuesday. “It was dropped the day before, and now after the inspector-general reports have come out, our worst fears have been confirmed: that it was a very rigged case to begin with.”
The report Cook alluded to, published by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General in March 2018, found that “there were misunderstandings and incorrect assumptions” among people working on the case at the FBI and that Apple’s involvement wasn’t actually necessary in the first place.
The report said the FBI unit that is responsible for exploiting mobile devices — the same unit that ultimately figured out how to unlock the shooter’s iPhone — had not been properly consulted before the FBI issued an order to Apple for assistance.
“This was not the government’s finest hour,” Cook told Gibbs. “I have personally never seen the government apparatus move against a company like it did here in a very dishonest manner. I felt like the naive guy that thought these things didn’t happen. They were trying to prevent a discussion or a dialogue or a debate about this. I hope that we’ve advanced much further than that.”
Cook said privacy has become much more meaningful to mainstream Americans since the incident, and he reaffirmed Apple’s stance on its importance.
“In the world where everything is totally open, people begin to guard what it is they will say,” he said. “Think about where society goes if we’re afraid to tell each other our opinions — if we’re afraid that somebody’s listening, or watching, or monitoring, or we’re under surveillance. This is a bad thing inherently in a very broad way, not to mention the manipulation that can go on with pitting different groups against each other.”
You can watch Cook’s whole interview with Gibbs from the Time 100 event below (Cook’s portion begins about 45 minutes into the video, since the event is ongoing).