Tim Cook: Apple 'will not shrink' from responsibility to protect customer privacy

Cook thanks customers for their outpouring of support in favor of Apple's position.

On Monday, Apple chief executive Tim Cook positioned his company’s stance on protecting privacy as a patriotic duty.

Cook addressed the ongoing iPhone privacy issue briefly as part of a presentation where Apple is expected to announce an new iPad Pro mini as well as a smaller iPhone.

“We built the iPhone for you, our customers,” Cook said. “We know that it is a deeply personal device,” Cook said. “For many of us, the iPhone is an extension of ourselves. About a month ago, we asked Americans across the country to join in a conversation. We need to decide as a nation how much power the government should have over our data and over our privacy.”

Apple is currently appealing a U.S. District Court order to build a separate version of iOS that would allow the FBI to unlock one particular iPhone 5c. The FBI wants access to the phone of Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the shooters responsible for killing 14 people and injuring 22 others in San Bernadino last December. With iOS 8 and higher, unsuccessfully guessing the phone’s password too many times automatically erases the phone’s data. The FBI wants Apple to load a separate version that allows unlimited brute-force password attempts.

“I’ve been humbled and deeply grateful for the outpouring of support that we’ve received from Americans across the country form all walks of life,” Cook added. “We did not expect to be in this position, at odds with our government, but we believe strongly that we have a responsibility to help you protect your data and protect your privacy. We owe it to our customers and we owe it to our country. This is an issue that impacts all of us and we will not shrink from this responsibility.”

Apple began using privacy as a competitive advantage two years ago, and the company has doubled down on that responsibility. In its arguments, Apple has argued that this type of software can’t technically be limited to just one phone, and would therefore harm security for all users, because there’s no guarantee that the FBI could keep it from slipping into the wrong hands. Furthermore, the court’s order creates a precedent that would allow the government to unlock any phone, and could compel other governments to issue their own backdoor demands.

Additional reporting from Caitlin McGarry and Jared Newman.

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