Ex-NSA lawyer uses tacky metaphor to slam Apple

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iPhone rain by Dariusz-Sankowski
Ex-NSA counsel Stewart Baker rained on Apple at SXSW this week.
Photo: Dariusz Sanksowski/Pixabay. Licensed via CC0 1.0.

Commentary on the encryption battle between Apple and the U.S. government might have received its strangest metaphor yet.

Stewart Baker, who used to serve as a counsel for the National Security Agency, appeared on a panel at the South by Southwest Interactive festival in Austin this week. During the discussion, he said that Apple’s current, outspoken position in favor of privacy is a recent development and compared it to the sort of PR-driven whitewashing that Hollywood studios have used to promote actresses as “innocent” and “pure.”

“Who remembers Tim Cook before he was a virgin?” Baker said, paraphrasing composer Oscar Levant’s barb at ’60s everygirl Doris Day.

It got a little less polite from there.

“Look at his record in China,” Baker said (via The Guardian). “When China asked, [Apple] didn’t even tell us they were doing it. Other countries are going to request access, and companies are going to give it to them once they demonstrate that they really need it.”

Baker, who represented the NSA from 1992 to 1994, wasn’t even close to being done slapping Apple around. The company is currently in a battle with the federal government over the contents of San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook’s locked iPhone 5s; authorities are asking for an updated version of the mobile OS that will let them get past the passcode lock, but Apple has refused to create what CEO Tim Cook has described as “the software equivalent of cancer.”

The debate has drawn a fairly predictable line, with tech companies like Facebook and Google siding with Apple and government agencies (and their former employees) siding with law enforcement.

Baker’s co-panelist was Matt Blaze, the cryptography researcher who proved the vulnerability of the Clipper Chip in 1994. The Clipper Chip was a previous (failed) attempt to balance security and privacy by providing the government a way to access otherwise encrypted information.

When Baker suggested that Apple’s position on encryption was not socially responsible, saying, “If you take pictures of kids while you are molesting them, [Apple is] going to protect you as well? They need to take into account the misuse of their technology and ask how to fix it,” Blaze pointed out his weird logic.

“That’s like asking if Al Gore is a nice guy relevant to climate change,” he said. “It’s a sideshow.

“These things require a healthy debate that we just haven’t had, and over the course of two crypto-wars, we’ve made remarkably little progress.”

A few days ago, President Obama appeared at SXSW and cautioned against “absolutist” positions on this topic.

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  • DCJ001

    “Who remembers Tim Cook before he was a virgin?” is a stupid question.

    I believe that he meant to ask:

    “Who remembers Tim Cook before he was no longer a virgin?”

    Apparently, Stewart Baker, who used to serve as a counsel for the NSA, is an idiot.

    • Joe Tavormina

      “Who remembers Tim Cook before he was a virgin?”
      This is the correct question.
      Baker is referencing a quote by Oscar Levant.
      “I knew Doris Day before she was a virgin.”
      The meaning of the quote is to whitewash your history.

  • http://www.designstrategies.com Len Williams

    The FBI is looking at privacy on the iPhone (and Android and Windows Phone, etc.) from their own viewpoint ONLY. They feel it is their right to investigate every angle of a criminal’s life to determine if there are more criminals or situations afoot. However, they COMPLETELY miss (or are purposely ignoring) that if phones have a back door, other hackers WILL find it and exploit it, with the result that cyber crime, identity theft, credit card fraud, drained bank accounts, blackmail and other criminal activities will spike to horrendous percentages. Remember that it also means that foreign governments will ALSO be able to hack phones, so forget any possibility of keeping your private information private. Your Social Security number, credit cards, health information, banking info, email passwords, etc. will be viewable by any hacker who studies the OS to find the back door (i.e. the criminal element).

  • Joe Tavormina

    People get real, this is all a publicity stunt. NSA already cracked the encryption. Ask yourself why the NSA is not asking apple for access to the iPhone’s encryption, yet the FBI and other Police departments are.
    The reason is that they already have access. All encryption systems eventually get deciphered and the NSA has all the military tools available to them. Edward Snowden exposed this a while back.

  • Barklee Sanders

    it was iphone 5c not 5s