Tim Cook gave a long interview to Time magazine about Apple’s fight with the FBI over its refusal to create “GovtOS,” a more crackable version of iOS to side-load onto the seized iPhone 5c used by San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook. The edited version is here, and Time also published the full transcript.
If you’ve been following the case—if you read about the Congressional hearing, or watched Tim Cook’s interview with ABC News, or even John Oliver’s entertaining explainer on Last Week Tonight, there isn’t much new information here. The article recaps the timeline of the case while patiently listing all of Apple’s legal arguments and justifications. Still, it’s a solid recap and an entertaining read—these are the tidbits that made us smile.
Well, I never:
Cook took deep, Alabaman umbrage at the manner in which he learned about the court order, which was in the press: “If I’m working with you for several months on things, if I have a relationship with you, and I decide one day I’m going to sue you, I’m a country boy at the end of the day: I’m going to pick up the phone and tell you I’m going to sue you.”
No, Apple isn’t crowdfunding its defense:
Steve Dowling, Apple’s vice president of communications, showed me a check for $100 that somebody sent to support the world’s most valuable technology company in its legal fight. (Apple didn’t cash it.)
“When Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don’t eat the tourists”:
The main reason is technical: if Apple created what amounts to a tool for cracking open iPhones, Cook argues (and security experts tend to agree), and that tool got out into the wild, through hacking or carelessness, the security of every iPhone everywhere would be compromised. This is not an unlikely scenario: code, like the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, often finds a way to get free.
Let me tell you ’bout the birds and the bees and the crypto and the trees:
“Think about the things that are on people’s phones,” Cook says. “Their kids’ locations are on there. You can see scenarios that are not far-fetched at all where you can take down power grids by going through a smartphone.” This isn’t entirely speculative: in December somebody managed to take down part of the power grid in western Ukraine, leaving 230,000 people without electricity. “We think the government should be pushing for more encryption,” he says. “That it’s a great thing. You know, it’s like the sun and the air and the water.”
Good laws have limiting principles and precision-machined aluminum:
(Cook can’t completely conceal his irritation at the un-Apple-ish vagueness of the All Writs Act: “You can tell it was written over 200 years ago.” As if to say, they ought to let Jony Ive loose on that thing, get it milled to the proper tolerances, upgrade it to a respectable level of precision.)
Tim Cook feels like he’s living in Bizarro World:
“We’re in this bizarre position where we’re defending the civil liberties of the country against the government,” Cook says. “I mean, I never expected to be in this position. The government should always be the one defending civil liberties, and yet there’s a role reversal here. I still feel like I’m in another world, that I’m in this bad dream.”
More encryption to come (uh, probably):
It has been reported—though not confirmed—that Apple is evolving a version of the iPhone that even it couldn’t crack, not even with the help of GovtOS. It’s theoretically possible: if, just for example, the 10-guess requirement in iOS 9 could be incorporated into the phone’s hardware, rather than its software, then even modifying the operating system wouldn’t get rid of it.