WASHINGTON – Apple chief Tim Cook on Wednesday said that complying with a court order to help the FBI break into an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooters would be “bad for America,” and set a legal precedent that would offend many Americans.
“Some things are hard, and some things are right, and some things are both — this is one of those things,” Cook told ABC News in his first interview since the court order came down last week.
Apple’s chief executive officer also said there should have been more dialogue with the Obama administration before the U.S. Justice Department’s decision to seek relief from a federal magistrate judge in California.
“We found out about the filing from the press, and I don’t think that’s the way the railroad should be run, and I don’t think that something so important to this country should be handled in this way,” Cook said in an interview being aired on “ABC World News Tonight.”
Apple has publicly said it intends to fight the court order and has until Friday to respond.
The iPhone in question was used by San Bernardino shooter Rizwan Farook, who along with his wife went on a shooting rampage in December that killed 14 and wounded 22.
The Justice Department wants Apple to help access encrypted information stored on Farook’s county-owned iPhone 5C by writing software that would disable its passcode protections to allow an infinite number of guesses without erasing the data on the device.
Apple has said the request amounts to asking a company to hack its own device and would undermine digital security more broadly.
“This would be bad for America,” Cook told ABC. “It would also set a precedent that I think many people in America would be offended by and when you think about those, which are knowns, compared to something that might be there, I believe we are making the right choice.”
America’s top spy said in an interview Wednesday, however, that he supports the FBI’s high-profile battle to force Apple to unlock an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino attackers.
In a conversation with National Public Radio, Central Intelligence Agency Director John Brennan said the public would never accept criminals or terrorists having exclusive access to a physical storage box, and asked why an encrypted phone should be treated any differently.
“What would people say if a bank had a safe-deposit box, or a storage company had a storage bin, that individuals could use and access and store things, but the government was not going to be able to have any access to those environments?” Brennan asked.
“The FBI clearly has a legitimate basis to try to understand what is on a phone that is part of a very active investigation.”
Apple is at the heart of a closely watched legal battle after a U.S. judge ordered the tech giant to find a way to unlock the encrypted iPhone in question, which belonged to Syed Farook, a U.S. citizen.
Along with his Pakistani wife, Tashfeen Malik, Farook gunned down 14 people in the Californian city of San Bernardino in December.
Investigators want help hacking the device, and have demanded Apple’s technical assistance in at least 10 other cases.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said he is “sympathetic” with Apple’s quandary and other tech firms have offered guarded support.
Microsoft founder Bill Gates has straddled the issue, saying in a BBC interview that there should be a debate over whether governments “should be able to access information at all or should they be blind.”
However, he disputed a report by the Financial Times that he “backed” the FBI in the Apple case. The newspaper later changed its headline to reflect Gates’s subsequent comments.
Brennan was also asked more broadly about the general threat of terrorism.
He said that even though al-Qaida has been “neutered” in many regions, the global terror risk has grown considerably with the rise of the Islamic State group, whose targets seem to know few boundaries.
“It’s seen as more of a threat (than al-Qaida,) not just to individuals, but also to economic and commercial and other types of interests globally,” Brennan said.