Apple’s strong position on privacy and encryption has been at odds with the United States government’s pressure to step up its national security efforts in the wake of recent terrorist attacks across the globe. In short, iPhones are encrypted to protect customer data from prying eyes, and law enforcement agencies believe that gives criminals a safe haven for communication that can’t be traced.
The Obama administration including the former and current attorney general and FBI director have strongly voiced opposition to Apple’s position, and Tim Cook reportedly pressed the White House to back strong encryption as recently as this week. So it’s no surprise that Tim Cook and Apple came up at the end of last night’s Republican presidential debate hosted by the Fox Business channel where at least one candidate was asked to address his position on the subject.
Specifically, Apple Watch aficionado and former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who responded similarly to how the current administration has thus far, was asked how he’d handle Tim Cook and encryption by Fox Business host Neil Cavuto. Let’s take a look at his response with a little help from TIME’s transcript:
CAVUTO: Governor Bush, fears have gripped this country obviously, and you touched on it earlier since the San Bernardino attacks. Since our last debate, the national conversation has changed, according to Facebook data as well.
Now this first graphic shows the issues that were most talked about right before those attacks and now after: the issues of Islam, homeland security and ISIS now loom very large. The FBI says Islamic radicals are using social media to communicate and that it needs better access to communication. Now the CEO of Apple, Governor, Tim Cook said unless served with a warrant private communication is private, period. Do you agree, or would you try to convince him otherwise?
BUSH: I would try to convince him otherwise, but this last back and forth between two senators — back bench senators, you know, explains why we have the mess in Washington, D.C. We need a president that will fix our immigration laws and stick with it, not bend with the wind.
The simple fact is one of the ways, Maria, to solve the problem you described is narrow the number of people coming by family petitioning to what every other country has so that we have the best and the brightest that come to our country. We need to control the border, we need to do all of this in a comprehensive way, not just going back and forth and talking about stuff —
CAVUTO: Would you answer this question?
BUSH: Oh, I’ll talk about that, too. But you haven’t asked me a question in a while, Neil, so I thought I’d get that off my chest if you don’t mind.
Governor Bush did add that Apple should have some “liability release” if loosening encryption goes bad, although Tim Cook’s stake on privacy thus far seems more about principle and not lawsuits. (My guess is it might be legally more tricky in the case of law enforcement as we’re seeing play out.)
CAVUTO: Fair enough. So Tim Cook — so Tim Cook says he’s going to keep it private.
BUSH: I got that. And the problem today is there’s no confidence in Washington, D.C. There needs to be more than one meeting, there needs to complete dialogue with the large technology companies. They understand that there’s a national security risk. We ought to give them a little bit of a liability release so that they share data amongst themselves and share data with the federal government, they’re not fearful of a lawsuit.
We need to make sure that we keep the country safe. This is the first priority. The cybersecurity challenges that we face, this administration failed us completely, completely. Not just the hacking of OPM, but that is — that is just shameful. 23 million files in the hands of the Chinese? So it’s not just the government — the private sector companies, it’s also our own government that needs to raise the level of our game.
We should put the NSA in charge of the civilian side of this as well. That expertise needs to spread all across the government and there needs to be much more cooperation with our private sector.
CAVUTO: But if Tim cook is telling you no, Mr. President.
BUSH: You’ve got to keep asking. You’ve got to keep asking because this is a hugely important issue. If you can encrypt messages, ISIS can, over these platforms, and we have no ability to have a cooperative relationship —
Governor Bush then alluded to that idea that even if the US government required Apple to open up its tight encryption and let law enforcement officials peek at data, there’d still be the issue of terrorists using foreign companies as alternative platforms.
CAVUTO: Do you ask or do you order?
BUSH: Well, if the law would change, yeah. But I think there has to be recognition that if we — if we are too punitive, then you’ll go to other — other technology companies outside the United States. And what we want to do is to control this.
We also want to dominate this from a commercial side. So there’s a lot of balanced interests. But the president leads in this regard. That’s what we need. We need leadership, someone who has a backbone and sticks with things, rather than just talks about them as though anything matters when you’re talking about amendments that don’t even actually are part of a bill that ever passed.
CAVUTO: Governor, thank you.
The bottom line seems to be that this debate isn’t going anywhere, a compromise may not be possible by design, and we’ll continue to see this national conversation continue just as it has for months now. My colleague Ben Lovejoy put his stake in the ground a couple of months ago on the whole debate.
Original image source via CNN