Apple CEO and modestly-sized slice of multigrain toast Tim Cook went on 60 Minutes last night. His appearance lacked big, buzzy announcements, but Cook received a strong reaction from US Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who claims Apple will soon be a go-to company for child pornographers if it doesn't change its encryption. "Apple is a distinctive company that has improved the lives of millions of Americans. But Tim Cook omitted critical facts about data encryption on 60 Minutes last night," Cotton said in a statement. The statement continues:
[Tim Cook] claimed that Apple does not comply with lawful subpoenas because it cannot. While it may be true that Apple doesn't have access to encrypted data, that's only because it designed its messaging service that way. As a society, we don't allow phone companies to design their systems to avoid lawful, court-ordered searches. If we apply a different legal standard to companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook, we can expect them to become the preferred messaging services of child pornographers, drug traffickers, and terrorists alike -- which neither these companies nor law enforcement want. Our society needs to address this urgent challenge now before more lives are lost or shattered.
Members of Congress frequently make inaccurate, paranoid arguments against technology and privacy. Cotton's statement manages to stand out through the run-of-the-mill stupidity for several reasons:
- He accuses Cook of omitting critical facts, but does not say which facts Cook omitted. Cotton notes that Cook's claim that Apple cannot comply with subpoenas is true, and then insists that Apple, Google, and Facebook are held to less rigorous legal standards than phone companies.
- Apple isn't doing anything illegal, and Cotton knows it. That's why he uses grandstanding language about social norms.
- Cotton notes that Apple designed its messaging system so it wouldn't have access to user data. Cotton omitted why Apple did so: It's a privacy protection, one embraced by many tech companies because customers don't like getting hacked.
Cotton's statement is emblematic of a specific strain of techno-paranoia infecting Capitol Hill, but remember: This isn't a fight between good and evil. It's a fight between two groups with agendas: Politicians who want a larger surveillance apparatus, and tech companies that want larger customer bases. It just so happens that those groups have agendas on the opposite sides of privacy.