Apple CEO Tim Cook on FBI, Security, Privacy: Transcript
To start with why don’t we roll back to last fall. There was a case that came up in Brooklyn, a drug dealer, the judge reached out to Apple and asked how you guys felt about getting information off the phone. Apple had gone along with similar requests prior to that. And in this case, Apple pushed back. Why the change?
COOK: The difference is that that judge asked us if we felt this was a proper use of the All Writs Act. Before judges would order us to do X or Y—we’ve never been asked to do what we’ve been asked to do now, so this case is materially different—but back then the question the judge asked us that we’d never been asked was if we felt the government was properly using this Act. And we went back and said no, we don’t. We don’t think the government has the authority to do this.
And our thinking has been that if you look back at the history of this discussion, because this discussion’s been going on for a while—CALEA, not to get too technical, but CALEA is essentially the regulatory arm for the telecommunications area. And there was a decision in the Congress to not have technology covered under, think about it as CALEA 2. And so the Congress passed. And our view has been that the use of this is inappropriate.
That doesn’t mean that we didn’t get the judges using it. But this judge said, I don’t want to just order it, I want to understand your view of whether this is a proper use. That was the first time that we’d ever been asked that before. We went back and put our argument together and said that no, we think it’s inappropriate.
Now in that case, what occurred was that the accused confessed, so the details of the case itself became completely unimportant. But the broader issue of, can the government use the All Writs Act to compel Apple to extract data from a phone, was still very important.
So when we saw the government going not only to this extent, but now going to a greater degree and asking us to develop a product, a new product that takes out all the security aspects, and makes it a simple process for them to guess many thousand different combinations of passwords or passcodes, we said you know, that case is now important. That question is now important, even though the details are no longer important. So we went back and asked that judge to rule on that. We’d been waiting, but we thought maybe he’s not going to do anything anymore since the case itself is no longer important.
And so we filed, and that’s a public filing. He asked us for more information about our point that the government was using this more and in increasingly significant ways. And then he asked the government to respond again. And then ruled —last Monday I think it was.
Now rolling forward to San Bernardino, just setting the scene, can you give us a little bit of the narrative? How did you find out about the government’s request? How did you feel about it? Who did you talk to? How did you arrive at the decision that you did?
COOK: I think the attack itself happened midweek, Wednesday or Thursday, if I remember correctly, and we didn’t hear anything for a few days. I think it was Saturday before we were contacted. We have a desk, if you will, set up to take requests from government. It’s set up 24/7, not as a result of this. it’s been going for a while. The call came into that desk, and they presented us with a warrant as it relates to this specific phone.
There were other phones involved, as I understand it, other phones that the shooters were using that they destroyed. This one was left intact. And so we filled the warrant. The warrant was for all information that we had about that phone, and so we passed that information, which for us was a cloud backup on the phone, and some other metadata, if you will, that we would have about the phone.
I suspect—I don’t know but I suspect—that they also gave the carrier a warrant, because they obviously have the ability to get the phone metadata and the metadata of messages that go across the cellular network. So there’s several different pieces of information they can gather on the phone.
Some time passed, quite a bit of time, over a month I believe, and they came back and said we want to get some additional information. And we said well, here’s what we would suggest. So we gave them some unsolicited advice. We said, take the phone to the home or apartment and power it, plug it in and let it back up. And as it turned out they came back and said, well, that didn’t work.
And we said, well, why? We need to understand this, we sent engineers and so forth, and we found out that they had directed the county in the early going, likely before we were ever involved, to reset the iCloud password. As you know, if you reset your iCloud password, the only way for the phone to back up is for you to put the new password in the phone. You can’t put the new password in the phone if it is pass code protected. So unfortunately that didn’t work.
So we were helping. We were consulting in addition to passing the information that we had on the phone, which was all the information that we had. Some more time passed, and they started talking to us about how they might sue, or they may put a claim in. But they never told us whether they were going to do it or not. By then it’s seventy-five days or so from the attack.
We found out about it actually from the press, who were being briefed about it in advance of the filing.I think most people here felt like it wouldn’t occur, and I felt that if it would occur, I would get a call. And that didn’t happen. We found out about it actually from the press, who were being briefed about it in advance of the filing. That means they elected to not file it under seal, in order to get the visibility on it, I guess, and try to swing the public, and decided not to reach out on it.
So we then had a decision of what should we do. Of course we had previously decided—because they had asked us to do the thing that we’re calling government OS, the new operating system without the security controls—and we had long discussions about that internally, when they had asked us. Lots of people internally were involved. It wasn’t just me sitting in a room somewhere deciding that way, it was a labored decision. We thought about all the things you would think we would think about.
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. It felt like different points in history, almost, in the U.S., where the government overreached for whatever reason. And we were dead set in the path of it.
So we knew it was wrong. It was wrong on so many levels. And so when we saw the suit, when the suit actually hit, it was then more about, how do we communicate to the Apple community why we’re doing what we’re doing?
Because we knew that on the surface, why won’t you open this phone, you know, most people would quickly jump to yeah, you should do this. As we would want to if it didn’t have all these other implications to it. So it then became more about being clear and straightforward about why we were doing what we were doing.
When you say civil liberties, what do you mean exactly? What does that mean to you?
COOK: It means a lot of things. When I think of civil liberties I think of the founding principles of the country. The freedoms that are in the First Amendment. But also the fundamental right to privacy.
And the way that we simply see this is, if this 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. But it wasn’t clear at all. Because if you read the All Writs Act, you can tell it was written over two hundred years ago. It’s a very open ended kind of thing that was clearly meant to fill in the crevices of laws that didn’t exist yet in the country. So we saw this slippery slope there.
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. This thing shouldn’t be done court by court by court by court.And also the act itself doesn’t look at the crime, it doesn’t look at the reason the government wants it. It looks at the burden to the company that it’s asking to do it. So this case was domestic terrorism, but a different court might view that robbery is one. A different once might view that a tax issue is one. A different one might view that a divorce issue would be okay. 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. This thing shouldn’t be done court by court by court by court.
Particularly looking at the history. The Congress made a conscious decision not to do this. It’s not like, oh, this technology is so new, it’s never been thought of before. It’s not like that. So we saw that being a huge civil liberties slide. We saw us creating a back door—we think it’s fundamentally wrong. And not just wrong from a privacy point of view, but wrong from a public safety point of view.
Think about the things that are on people’s phones. Their kids’ locations are on there. You can see scenarios that are not farfetched at all where you can take down power grids going through a smart phone. 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.
And certainly some things that are very good can sometimes be used in a bad way. We get that. But you don’t take away the good for that sliver of bad. We’ve never been about that as a country. We make that decision every day, right? There are some times that freedom of speech—we might cringe a little when we hear that person saying this, and wish they wouldn’t, but we think about the alternative of not having that freedom. We think about freedom of the press. You just go on and on and on. We all cringe occasionally, but then we think about if you begin to restrict and limit and box. Pretty soon it’s not the country that we’re a part of anymore. It’s not America anymore. This to us is like that. It’s at the core of who we are as a country.
And you know, it wasn’t very long ago that all this stuff was being debated. It’s not like it hasn’t been discussed. So this seemed like a back door of the back door. You know, trying to force someone to put a back door in, making people more vulnerable. Clearly trampling on civil liberties. I mean, I think it’s hard to debate these things. I think these things are unequivocally what is going on.
And if they are to go on, they should go on out in the open, in the Congress, and the Congress should pass a law. Because those are the people that we vote on to represent us. You know we don’t elect people in government in appointed positions, and for the most part we don’t elect judges, and so forth.
And courts can have different views, and I think they would. We know that. It’s our system, and it’s the great thing about our system. But in something so fundamental, this should be talked about.
Now for us, and this is so key, I believe that if you took privacy and you said, I’m willing to give up all of my privacy to be secure. So you weighted it as a zero. My own view is that encryption is a much better, much better world. And I’m not the only person that thinks that. You know, Michael Hayden thinks that, and he ran the NSA so that’s a point of view we should all listen to. So you can see not only data theft and theft of all different things, but you then begin to think about the public safety aspects of it. And to me it is so clear that even if you discount the importance of privacy, that encryption is the way to go.
I’m hoping that that comes out strong. Once again, I think it came out once in the Congress and they said, we’re not doing anything to limit this.I think it happened in the administration as well and they said, we’re not going to seek any legislation on this. So I think we need to go through that again and hope everybody comes to the same conclusion.
Do you feel as though the FBI intentionally took a case that was obviously very emotional, it’s the ultimate domestic terrorism case, not so much because there is vital evidence on that phone, but because they knew that they were going to make this the hardest version of the debate?
COOK: I think they picked a case to pursue that they felt they had the strongest possibility of winning. Is there something on the phone? I don’t know. I don’t think anybody really knows.
The thing that some people point out, or have pointed out to me, is that the other phones are smashed. One of the family members of the victim came out last week and said everybody knew these phones were monitored. In fact he said they had the GPS app on the phone that allowed the county to track the employees because the employees were field employees. And I’m sure they did it from a safety point of view.
And the FBI waited seventy-five days. I guess that’s the other thing that some people pointed out. But I don’t know, is the real answer.
Do you feel ambushed?
COOK: No, I don’t feel ambushed. What I feel is that in a professional way, if I’m working with you for several months on things, if I have a relationship with you, and I decide one day I’m going to sue you, I’m a country boy at the end of the day. I’m going to pick up the phone and tell you I’m going to sue you.
And so do I like their tactics? No. I don’t. I’m seeing the government apparatus in a way I’ve never seen it before. Do I like finding out from the press about it? No. I don’t think it’s professional. So do I like them talking about, or lying, about our intentions? No. I’m offended by it. Deeply offended by it.
However, putting all of that emotion aside, I think the dialogue that is happening now with a lot of different people and a lot of different view points, people that agree with us and disagree with us, I think it’s healthy and it’s a part of democracy. So that part I’m really excited about. And I’m optimistic that we’ll get to the right conclusion.
And again, when I say that I’m separating, the court’s going to do what it’s going to do. But you were asking about the broader policy issue, I think, and I’m excited now that people are engaged once again. I thought we’d already done this, to be honest. But I think we have to do it again. And that’s fine.
So I do think that’s positive. I don’t think the whole thing is negative. But there are parts of their approach that I think are heavy-handed and not the country I love.
This is pretty long, so I decided to stop here.