Skip to navigationSkip to content
A police officer knocks on the door to allow Larry the cat back inside 10 Downing street.
Reuters/Stefan Wermuth
But what’s going on at the back door?
PRIVATE LIVES

On weakening data encryption, Tim Cook warns “any backdoor is a backdoor for everyone”

By Cassie Werber

The UK government wants to increase its power to oversee data on the internet, and has insisted that new measures it plans to put in place are necessary in order effectively to fight terrorism. On the other side of that debate is Apple, which has embraced end-to-end encryption.

That means Apple advocates for encryption that not even it can break. Apple has been refusing to give the government backdoor access—whereby a company must be able to decrypt its information in order to comply with requests from the authorities—to their servers and operating systems in the US, and CEO Tim Cook has taken the fight to the UK.

“Any backdoor is a backdoor for everyone,” he told the Telegraph (paywall). “Everybody wants to crack down on terrorists. Everybody wants to be secure. The question is how. Opening a backdoor can have very dire consequences.”

Cook added: “You can’t weaken cryptography. You need to strengthen it. You need to stay ahead of the folks that want to break it.”

The UK is pushing for access the systems of Apple and other tech firms under new powers—outlined last week in a piece of legislation called the Investigatory Powers Bill. Opponents feel the bill, which is yet to pass into law, is an invasion of privacy.

Apple has been engaged in a long tussle with the US government about the same issue. Reacting to an Obama administration call for more government access to data earlier this year, Cook made a speech in which he said that many people are already restricted from expressing what they believe in. “If those of us in positions of responsibility fail to do everything in our power to protect the right of privacy, we risk something far more valuable than money,” he said. “We risk our way of life.”

If the ban against full encryption goes ahead, the founder of Wikipedia even said that Apple should stop selling its devices in Britain. The UK government seems undeterred, however.