Tim Cook Talks Privacy at Apple Event: ‘The iPhone Is An Extension of Ourselves’

Apple’s CEO opened the company’s first event since being ordered to help the FBI with a strong statement on security and privacy.

by Janus Rose
Mar 21 2016, 6:50pm

Image: Getty Images

Apple wasted no time addressing the ongoing battle over encryption at its event today in Cupertino, with a short statement from CEO Tim Cook opening the company's first major event since a US court controversially ordered it to help the FBI unlock an iPhone belonging to one of the deceased San Bernardino shooters.

"We build the iPhone for you, our customers, and we know that it is a deeply personal device," Cook told a reverent audience of tech journalists gathered inside the town hall of Apple's Cupertino, CA campus this morning. "For many of us, the iPhone is an extension of ourselves."

Cook's statement was a follow-up to Apple's most recent court filing in the San Bernardino iPhone case, in which the company accused the government of using the All Writs Act of 1789 as an "all-powerful magic wand" to compel Apple to build software that defeats its own security.

Security experts, tech companies and civil liberties groups have come to Apple's side in droves, warning that forcing the gadget giant to build a hacking tool to disable the iPhone's security features would create a chilling legal precedent, put millions of customers at risk, and ultimately wouldn't stop criminals, who would simply use other encryption products made by non-US companies.

But some of Cook's words seemed to mirror recent arguments saying that we should fundamentally rethink the role of our digital devices as extensions of our brains, rather than uncrackable digital "safes" that the government claims gives terrorists and criminals safe refuge.

Law enforcement groups have been quick to blame encryption for preventing investigators from accessing crucial evidence, especially in terrorism cases. On Sunday, newly discovered evidence regarding last year's massacre in Paris revealed that terrorists had coordinated the attacks using disposable "burner" phones, not encryption, as officials had initially claimed.

"We need to decide as a nation how much power the government should have over our data and our privacy," Cook said at the Apple event. "We believe strongly that we have a responsibility to help protect your data and your privacy. We owe it to our customers and we owe it to our country."

"This is something that impacts all of us, and we will not shrink from our responsibility."

Apple didn't have much to show at its event in terms of security improvements, but it wasn't all talk. The company did announce that devices running the new iOS 9.3 will allow users to protect the contents of their Notes app with a passcode or fingerprint lock. The update, which releases today, will also quietly patch a major security flaw discovered by student researchers at Johns Hopkins University, which allowed attackers to intercept photos and videos sent in iMessages. The researchers, however, argue that iMessage should be completely rewritten.