Some tech companies are slowly coming out of the woodwork in support of Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) CEO Tim Cook, who yesterday posted an open letter explaining why his company is defying a California judge's order to crack an iPhone linked to the horrific San Bernardino shootings in December.
Unsurprisingly, major U.S. wireless carriers aren't among them.
WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum was among the first major players to voice support for Cook, taking to Facebook to post Cook's letter, as The Verge reported. "I have always admired Tim Cook for his stance on privacy and Apple's efforts to protect user data and couldn't agree more with everything said in their Customer Letter today," Koum wrote. "We must not allow this dangerous precedent to be set. Today our freedom and our liberty is at stake."
Koum's thoughts were echoed by Google CEO Sundar Pichai, who opted to use Twitter to back Cook. Pichai acknowledged that "law enforcement and intelligence agencies face significant challenges in protecting the public against crime and terrorism," but said forcing digital companies to hack into their offerings to let authorities access personal data could compromise users' privacy.
"We build secure products to keep your information safe and we give law enforcement access to data based on valid legal orders," Pichai wrote in a series of tweets reported by Re/code. "But that's wholly different than requiring companies to enable hacking of customer devices & data. Could be a troubling precedent."
Microsoft was less direct in its support for Cook, but CEO Satya Nadella and President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith each tweeted a link to a Tumblr post from Reform Government Surveillance, a consortium of companies urging governments around the world to re-examine their policies in the digital era. The group, which includes Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and the Verizon property AOL, calls for the adoption of policies that limit government's authority to collect users' information, increases oversight of intelligence agencies, and enables businesses to publish "the number and nature of government demands for user information," among other things.
However, when questioned by the New York Times to directly comment on Apple's position, representatives of Microsoft, Twitter and Facebook declined to comment. A spokesman for Amazon also declined to comment.
But as telecom analyst Dean Bubley pointed out on Twitter, network operators have historically been willing to work with surveillance agencies rather than push back against them. Indeed, AT&T (NYSE: T) CEO Randall Stephenson specifically called out Cook's defiance against creating "backdoors" for hacking, suggesting such positions overstep the bounds of private companies.
"I don't think it is Silicon Valley's decision to make about whether encryption is the right thing to do," Stephenson said. "I understand Tim Cook's decision, but I don't think it's his decision to make."
"I wonder if telecom ind. Will find itself on wrong side of history & public opinion without pushback against so-called 'lawful intercept,'" Bubley tweeted. "After @apple takes a principled stance on privacy & security, will be interesting to see what @gsma has to say on issue next week #MWC16."
Apple's Cook opposes order to unlock iPhone linked to San Bernardino shootings
On the topic of encryption, it's AT&T's Randall Stephenson vs. Apple's Tim Cook
Report: AT&T handed over 1.1B wireless calling records per day to NSA
Google, Apple, civil liberties groups press Obama not to break companies' encryption of customer data
U.S. lawmakers introduce bill to stop NSA from mass collection of Americans' telephone records
Report: Justice Department program scoops up Americans' cell phone identities in hunt for criminals