The White House, seeking to capitalize on the 2014 hack of Sony headquarters and hijack that issue for its own agenda, organized a conference at Stanford University to make its case. President Obama argued that companies must cooperate more with government agencies to ensure Internet security, but before he could speak, Apple CEO Tim Cook took to the podium and laid to rest any notion that the tech companies should roll over for the government.
Cook warned of the “dire consequences” which would be the result of giving up privacy rights too eagerly to law enforcement authorities.
It is surmised that his remarks weren’t anticipated to be so unsupportive of, and in contrast to, the event’s agenda. It was thought that Cook, just by his attendance at the politically staged symposium, would lend credence to the government’s position – namely that corporations should voluntarily share information with the government in exchange for government cooperation., but he did not play ball.
Instead, he opined that privacy was a “life and death” proposition for most people, and stated that,
“If those of us in a position of responsibility fail to do everything in our power to protect rights of privacy, we risk something far more valuable than money. We risk our way of life.”
Cook said Apple was committed to cooperating with the government, but reiterated his support for the toughest possible technological solutions for protecting people’s data.
It was thought that Cook might be accommodating to the administration’s position, but this did not happen. In fact, it was a bit of a surprise that Cook accepted the invitation to attend, no less speak. Indeed the leaders of Apple’s fellow giants in the tech industry- including Facebook, Google and Microsoft- were not in attendance at the summit, much to the chagrin of the White House. However, to his credit, in his comments he did not tow the administration’s line.
Obama followed Cook with the popular, predictive verbiage about working together, and of the obvious “challenges of this information age”, but the platitudes rang hollow in light of his administration’s steady dismantling of privacy protection, and it seemed to be just another attempt by the government to gain ground in the anti-privacy battle and inflict another grievous wound on the public.
It is no secret that the White House has clashed repeatedly and increasingly with the major firms and smaller players in the industry, ever since Snowden’s disclosures began. Apple, among others, has sought to reassure its customers by introducing strong encryption protocols to protect data. This stance has angered law enforcement officials, as they feel it will aid and abet terrorists and criminals – cyber and otherwise. Addressing the use of encryption by Apple and others last year, FBI director James Comey said that,
“Criminals and terrorists would like nothing more than for us to miss out.”
On the flip side, the tech companies must avoid being co-opted by the government. With this in mind, Cook stated that “our customers’ trust means everything to us. And we’ve spent decades earning that trust.” Alluding to the fact that hacking attempts are on the increase he said, “we have the ability to protect people from this growing threat, but we must get this right.” Hopefully he and other industry leaders will not cave-in to government demands by surrendering sensitive information to them without proper judicial constraints, for “getting it right” means recognizing where firm’s loyalties should really lie, and acting accordingly, rather than being pawns in the political games being played out in anticipation of the 2016 elections.