Tim Cook’s FBI Digital Privacy Battle Shows No Signs Of Easing Tensions

Tim Cook’s fight with the FBI is either going to get uglier or get resolved by the March 22 court date. Tim Cook is having his most challenging moment right now as Apple CEO, and the results of the current legal battle are either going to end up helping Apple in its quest to keep privacy private, or help law enforcement in its quest to get access to data from mobile devices for evidence in court.

But Tim Cook’s concern has more to do with what precedent this could set, rather than what the FBI is specifically asking for. Apple is trying to avoid building a tool to allow the FBI access to the iPhone of suspected terrorist Syed Farook. The request is in connection with the deadly shooting last December at a party in San Bernardino, California.

Cook does not believe the request to create software to unlock the iPhone is reasonable. As NBC News reports, the FBI could have found the data it needed if not for an earlier misstep, when an account password was changed by the FBI that could have uploaded the sought after data for the FBI’s perusal.

Since then, Cook and Apple have been having it out with the FBI. The battle has been very public, and Cook believes that this is because the FBI and the government are trying to sway public opinion against Apple. But Apple has remained firm about its position, though Apple has also stated it will comply with any outcomes in court.

In a long interview with Time, Tim Cook revealed Apple’s thinking about the importance of customer privacy.

“So we had already decided before the suit hit that this wasn’t a good thing for people. From a customer point of view it wasn’t good, because it would wind up putting millions of customers at risk, making them more vulnerable. In addition, we felt like it trampled on civil liberties, not only for our customers but in the broader sense.”

Out of all the tech giants, Google, Amazon, and Facebook, Apple has been the company least concerned with aggregating its users data. The other companies gather user data as a core part of their main business models. So, the current request for personal iPhone data may see a larger and more drawn out battle than if it was a phone or online account from one of these other companies.

Apple fears that creating a way to bypass iPhone security the way they are asked to do, is ripe for creating a bigger security loophole, with long-reaching implications. They fear that creating such a tool for use in this one instance will definitely lead to more requests. They also feel that such a tool could fall into the wrong hands and leave the data of iPhone customers vulnerable.

Tim Cook further revealed to Time why more phone security, not less, is a good thing.

“Think about the things that are on people’s phones. Their kids’ locations are on there. You can see scenarios that are not far-fetched at all where you can take down power grids going through a smartphone. So there’s all kinds of things that as we looked at it, we think the government should be pushing for more encryption. That it’s a great thing. It’s like the sun and the air and the water. It’s a superb thing.”

But what could possibly be a key piece of evidence in the motives of the San Bernardino shooters may or may not be locked in that remaining mobile phone. Nobody knows at this point, as the suspected shooters were killed in a gun battle with police. Tim Cook feels all his customer’s privacy is at stake, due to the awful actions of a minority of people with violent allegiances.

[Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for RFK Human Rights]