Tim Cook to ABC: ‘This case is not about one phone’


Tim Cook ABC News interview
Tim Cook has a statue of Robert F. Kennedy in his office.
Photo: ABC News/"World News Tonight with David Muir"

In an interview with ABC News tonight, Apple CEO Tim Cook described the code the FBI is asking the company to make to crack San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook’s iPhone as “the software equivalent of cancer.”

Cook sat down in his office with World News Now anchor David Muir to explain why the tech giant is defying the U.S. government. And while he does sympathize with those directly affected by December’s mass shooting, which left 14 people dead and 22 injured, he emphasized that the issues under debate right now are bigger than this one case.

“[The victims of the attack and their families] have our deepest sympathy,” Cook said. “What they’ve been through, no one should have to go through.

“But this case is not about one phone. This case is about the future. What is at stake here is, can the government compel Apple to write software that we believe would make hundreds of millions of customers vulnerable around the world, including the U.S., and also trample civil liberties that are at the basic foundation of what this country was made on.”

The FBI has asked for Apple’s assistance in bypassing the password lock an an iPhone 5c belonging to Farook which may or may not contain information relevant to the investigation of the shooting. Cook says that the company has offered both assistance and engineers to access the device, and has told the government “everything we know about this phone.”

But investigators would still like to access the device, and they’re asking the company to create software that will allow it to avoid the feature that will delete all of its contents after 10 failed attempts and let it use technology to brute-force the access code.

The security system requires anyone attempting to unlock a phone to input the passcode manually, and it has a built-in, increasing delay after six failed tries to dissuade the type of widespread guesswork that the FBI wants to do. Even without the threat of deletion, it would take up to 50 years to try all of the options because of the time authorities would have to wait between inputs.

Tim Cook David Muir interview ABC News
Tim Cook made the company’s case for encryption to ABC News this evening.
Photo: ABC News/”World News Tonight with David Muir”

Muir asked Cook about the polls which show that over half of Americans think the company should unlock the phone, and the CEO declared that the issue is not about polls, either.

“What I have seen is, as people understand what is at stake here, an increasing number support us,” Cook said. “I have gotten thousands of e-mails since this occurred, and the largest single category of people are from the military. These are men and women who fight for our freedom and our liberty, and they want us to stand up and be counted on this issue for them.”

Cook repeated the “this is about the future” line several times throughout the half-hour interview, and he also had some important words about the company’s actual responsibilities.

“Our job is to protect our customers,” he said. “And our customers have incredibly detailed information on their phones. There’s probably more information about you on your phone than there is in your house. [. . .] So it’s not just about privacy, but it’s also about public safety.”

The Apple head also outlined the help the company has already provided investigators, including its advice to take the device to a “known network” to induce it to back up its information to iCloud. But according to Cook, the FBI asked San Bernardino County (which owns the phone) to change the iCloud password, rendering that option impossible.

Cook says that without the password change, investigators had lost the “best way” to access the phone’s data. But lacking that option or any other reasonable methods, the company refuses to go any further, and it is prepared to take its case to the Supreme Court if necessary.

“Technology can do so many things,” Cook said. “But there are many things technology should never be allowed to do. And the way you not allow it is to not create it.”

Check out the entire interview below.

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  • JL Marsh

    I created a discus account just to write this. You guys need to fix your pop up adds because it’s hijacking my phone and now sending me to porn sites. This is unacceptable and I’m really not going to continue coming to this site!

    • David Kaplan 

      AdBlock if you want….

  • daPrinz

    I thought I was the only one that this hijacking thing happened to. In my case it seems to open about 10 pages, then freezes.
    It’s the 2nd time this has happened in the last 48 hours.

  • David Kaplan 

    I stand with Apple and Tim Cook, it’s ridiculous…. They already have dozens more phones they want Apple to unlock if this case goes the FBI’s way…

  • Stuart Lombard

    While I don’t own an iPhone (#GalaxyS6), I think that it is the responsibility of all tech companies to fight for our privacy rights, and therefore I stand by Apple.