Last week, Apple CEO Tim Cook attended a cyber security conference sponsored by the White House, in which he signed up for a framework to share information on cyber threats between companies.
However, in an impassioned speech, he made the case for not violating user privacy even to protect national security, and staunchly refused to share information with the U.S. government. Apple has also made it virtually impossible for law enforcement to obtain data from its devices even with a valid court order.
While it's easy to applaud Cook's stance, especially after the NSA debacle, and the CEO is known for his personal commitment to privacy protection, there's also a problem with his view: namely, it ignores a basic truth about the threat faced by Americans today.
A new report on cyber security showing that since 2013, hackers have infiltrated more than 100 banks in 30 countries and stolen more than $1 billion, not to mention the many large data breaches which occurred in 2014, illustrate just how serious and widespread the problem of cyber crime is. Whether it's money or sensitive personal data, we are extremely vulnerable to hackers. In the computer age, all our information is stored electronically somewhere and that leaves us exposed even offline.
In this environment, and what Cook seems unable or unwilling to recognize, is that privacy and security are inextricably linked. You can't have the former without the latter, and just because Apple won't reveal information to the government doesn't mean that information could never be hacked by criminals. Let's not forget that our biggest banks and retailers also promised us protection, but were unable to provide it.
The fact is that no system is foolproof, even with cutting edge technology, and therefore a joint effort by the federal government and private sector, utilizing both military and corporate expertise and maximum resources, is essential for creating a robust defense against cyber crime.
We are no longer dealing with innocuous teenage hackers like the one portrayed in War Games, but sophisticated criminal networks often sponsored by rouge nations. As a result, we don't just need individual company safeguards but system-wide ones to protect us properly, and that requires cooperation.
That's why Apple's attitude is misguided.
A better approach would be for the company to work collaboratively with the government so that it can monitor how its user information is used, contribute its own knowledge and expertise, and work on a broader national solution to privacy protection instead of just championing it internally. That may not be as media-friendly but would likely be more effective.
It would also be more responsible. Apple's decision may be well-intentioned but the result is that it's deciding what our government can and cannot do to protect us from crime. That may not place the company above the law but it certainly feels like it's making its own laws, and that's scary.
Other articles on Apple by Sanjay Sanghoee: "Has Apple's value peaked?"