Tim Cook: FBI is asking to set a precedent that is 'bad for America'

Apple CEO Tim Cook gives his first TV interview about his company's refusal to help the FBI unlock a terrorist's iPhone.

apple ceo tim cook abc news fbi fight

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Apple CEO Tim Cook is making his case on national TV.

On Wednesday, Cook gave an interview with ABC News explaining his rationale for defying the FBI’s request to create a special software to access the iPhone belonging to the San Bernardino gunman.

“I think safety of the public is incredibly important—safety of our kids, safety of our family is very important,” Cook told ABC News anchor David Muir. “The protection of people’s data is incredibly important, and so the trade-off here is we know that doing this could expose people to incredible vulnerabilities.”

The FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice have issued orders compelling Apple to create a hackable version of iOS that can be installed on iPhones to bypass important security measures.

“The only way to get information... would be to write a piece of software that we view as sort of the equivalent of cancer. We think it’s bad news to write. We would never write it. We have never written it—and that is what is at stake here,” Apple’s CEO said. “We believe that is a very dangerous operating system.”

Cook also argued that creating this software will give authorities the power to unlock more iPhones, and would essentially turn Apple into an arm of law enforcement. ABC News reported that Apple has received (and contested) 15 court orders to extract data from an iPhone in just the last five months. 

“This [master key] is not something we would create,” Cook said. “This would be bad for America. It would also set a precedent that I believe many people in America would be offended by.”

“If a court can ask us to write this piece of software, think about what else they could ask us to write—maybe it’s an operating system for surveillance, maybe the ability for the law enforcement to turn on the camera,” the CEO continued. “I don’t know where this stops. But I do know that this is not what should be happening in this country.”

Cook told ABC News that the DoJ filing compelling Apple to help the FBI was unexpected, and that he wished there had been more dialogue and communication from the Obama administration before resorting to that type of action.

“We found out about the filing from the press,” Cook said. “And I don’t think that’s the way the railway should be run. And I don’t think that something so important to this country should be handled in this way.”

Cook revealed that he had not spoken to President Obama yet to address this issue, but that he is planning to.

The story behind the story: Cook’s interview follows a recent Pew survey, showing that most Americans disagree with Apple’s refusal of the FBI’s request, prioritizing national security over civil rights to privacy. According to Bloomberg, Apple is planning to legally argue in the courts that its software is protected speech and the government cannot compel the company to fabricate speech that goes against its beliefs.

Updated: Tim Cook’s full interview with ABC News is below.

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