Apple CEO Tim Cook said he wishes that the company’s fight with the FBI in 2016 over an iPhone backdoor would have gone to court.
Cook, speaking during a Time Magazine conference in New York on Tuesday, was specifically referring to the FBI’s case to force Apple to unlock an iPhone 5c that belonged to one of the two criminals involved in the San Bernardino mass shooting that killed 14 people and injured 22 others.
The FBI obtained the iPhone in December 2015 after the two shooters were killed by police. The Bureau and other intelligence agencies were unable to unlock the device, since it was protected by a passcode.
When the FBI went to Apple and asked the firm to build a “master key” operating system that could be installed on the device and disable its encryption, Apple famously refused.
Cook called the backdoor “software equivalent of cancer,” since it could be used to open millions of iPhones and compromise the security and privacy of Apple’s customers.
That led to a legal case that was dropped just one day before it was expected to go to trial after the Department of Justice said it was successfully able to crack the iPhone without Apple’s help.
The FBI formally withdrew its request to Apple about a week later. The third-party firm that the government used has never been publicly revealed.
At the Time Conference Tuesday, Cook called the whole ordeal a “very rigged case to begin with.”
“I think this was not the government’s finest hour,” Cook said. “I have personally never seen the government apparatus move against a company like it did here in a very dishonest manner.”
Cook also referred to an inspector general report that indicated that the FBI was a lot closer to unlocking the shooter’s iPhone than it let on during its case with Apple. Due to miscommunication within the Bureau, the fact that the FBI was so close was never mentioned in the dustup with the Cupertino tech giant.
Specifically, those documents reveal that the FBI department responsible for cracking mobile devices was not properly consulted before the Bureau sent its request to Apple. In other words, Apple’s involvement in the first place was never necessary.
“I wish that case went to court, to be honest,” Cook said Tuesday.
The FBI calls the inability to unlock the encryption on consumer devices the “going dark” issue. Authorities worry that the strong privacy and security protections baked into technology products could hamper law enforcement investigations.
Apple, for its part, has always prioritized protecting its users’ privacy. In 2018, Cook even said that it would go toe-to-toe with the FBI again if the agency requested a backdoor vulnerability another time.
The Apple CEO also said that data privacy likely became more important to consumers after the FBI case. At the Time Conference this week, Cook also reaffirmed Apple’s position on the matter and again called for the U.S. government to pass comprehensive data privacy legislation at the federal level.