Apple chief Tim Cook says row with FBI over iPhone 'bad for America', plans to speak to Obama

Apple chief Tim Cook said the definite dangers of creating a way to crack into iPhone encryption trumped concerns about 'something that might be there'.
Apple chief Tim Cook said the definite dangers of creating a way to crack into iPhone encryption trumped concerns about 'something that might be there'. PHOTO: REUTERS

SAN FRANCISCO (AFP/REUTERS) - Apple chief Tim Cook went public on Wednesday (Feb 24) in his battle with the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), saying that unlocking an iPhone in the name of fighting terrorism would be "bad for America".

"I think safety of the public is incredibly important - safety of our kids, safety of our families is very important," Mr Cook said during a television interview with ABC News.

"The protection of people's data is incredibly important, and so the trade-off here is we know that doing this could expose people to incredible vulnerabilities."

He added that the government was asking for "the software equivalent of cancer" and that he planned to talk to President Barack Obama directly about getting the dispute "on a better path".

Later, when asked whether Apple would be prepared to fight this case all the way to the US Supreme Court, Mr Cook said: "We would be prepared to take this issue all the way."

Apple's chief executive officer also said there should have been more dialogue with the Obama administration before the US 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," Mr Cook said in an interview being aired on ABC World News Tonight.

Apple has been locked in a legal and public relations fight with the government, with the FBI seeking technical assistance in hacking the iPhone of US citizen Syed Farook, who gunned down 14 people with his Pakistani wife Tashfeen Malik in San Bernardino, California, in December.

Apple has refused. It claims that cooperating with the probe would undermine privacy and security for its devices, while the US government counters it is a one-time request that will aid an important investigation.

Apple is also said to be developing security measures to make it even harder for the government to break into iPhones, the New York Times reported on Wednesday, citing people close to the company and security experts.

"Apple engineers have already begun developing new security measures that would make it impossible for the government to break into a locked iPhone using methods similar to those now at the centre of a court fight in California," the Times said.

When asked in the interview how he felt about Apple taking the stand with the chance that information on Farook's iPhone might prevent another terrorist attack, Mr Cook responded: "Some things are hard and some things are right. And some things are both. This is one of those things."

Mr Cook maintained that the definite dangers of creating a way to crack into iPhone encryption trumped concerns about "something that might be there", adding he felt Apple was making the right choice.

"This (master key) is not something we would create," Mr Cook said.

"This would be bad for America. It would also set a precedent that I believe many people in America would be offended by."

Apple is battling the US government over unlocking devices in at least 10 cases in addition to its high-profile dispute in the San Bernardino attackers, court documents show.