Tim Cook says there isn't a trade-off between security and privacy

Apple CEO Tim Cook
Credit: Blair Hanley Frank

The Apple CEO said that the company could not provide encrypted information

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In a strong defense of encryption, Apple's CEO Tim Cook said that there can be no trade-off between privacy and national security when it comes to encryption.

"I think that's an overly simplistic view. We're America. We should have both," he told Charlie Rose on CBS' 60 Minutes program on Sunday, according to a transcript of the interview posted online.

Cook said that people should be able to protect their personal data on their smartphones, such as health and financial information, intimate conversations with family and co-workers and possibly business secrets.

In the wake of recent terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., there has been increased demand that tech companies should provide ways for law enforcement agencies to be able to access encrypted communications, which terrorists are believed to take advantage of to plan their attacks and win over followers.

In a press conference on Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama urged high-tech and law enforcement leaders "to be able to track a suspected terrorist." Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey has also asked for a debate on encryption of communications, saying that the technology could come in the way of keeping people safe.

Comey said the government would try to resolve the issue through negotiations with industry rather than through legislation.

Cook was, however, unwavering on the issue of encryption. "Well if, if the government lays a proper warrant on us today then we will give the specific information that is requested. Because we have to by law. In the case of encrypted communication, we don't have it to give," he said.

The CEO shot down suggestions from people who have been recommending adding a back door that will allow law enforcement to access encrypted communications. "But the reality is if you put a back door in, that back door's for everybody, for good guys and bad guys," he said.

In a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Apple has resisted a government request to aid investigators by bypassing the passcode of an iPhone 5s, an earlier version of its iconic phone. The company said it was possible to extract certain types of unencrypted user data from the iPhone 5s phone running iOS 7, though it would not have been possible if it was a device running iOS 8 or higher. 

The interview with Cook did not yield significant information on other issues such as the rumored Apple car. Cook laughed when asked about the company's plans for a car, and when prodded further add that "one of the great things about Apple is probably we have more secrecy here than the CIA."

Cook said that the company, which manufactures its products in China, is doing that because of the skills available, rather than the low cost. "I mean, you can take every tool and die maker in the United States and probably put them in a room that we're currently sitting in. In China, you would have to have multiple football fields." He dismissed as "total political crap" the idea that Apple was avoiding paying tax in the U.S. by retaining revenue overseas.

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