clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Tim Cook says UK plans to weaken encryption will 'hurt good people'

If you buy something from a Verge link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has warned that UK plans to force companies to unlock encrypted communications would have "dire consequences" for both security and privacy. Cook said in an interview with The Daily Telegraph that the draft surveillance legislation — known as the Investigatory Powers bill — seems misguided. "If you halt or weaken encryption, the people that you hurt are not the folks that want to do bad things. It’s the good people. The other people know where to go," said Cook.

Draft bill includes plans to store everyone's internet browsing history

The draft bill was unveiled in parliament last week by the UK's home secretary Theresa May, and touches on many issues of digital surveillance. If the bill becomes law it will enshrine methods of bulk surveillance currently practiced by British spy agency GCHQ, force ISPs to retain every internet user's browsing history for 12 months, and place new obligations on tech firms to decrypt any communications requested by the police.

Apple has been a vocal supporter of tough security standards in the years following the Snowden revelations, and has sought to remove itself from the struggle for data between users and government by deploying encryption that even it can't crack. In a recent investigation in the US, police were told by Apple that the company simply could not comply with an order to decrypt iMessage communications, and the Obama administration has since suggested it will not pursue legislation compelling companies to introduce backdoors. One worry reportedly expressed by Cook directly to Obama is that if backdoors are introduced in the US, China would demand similar access to Apple devices.

"To protect people who use any products, you have to encrypt."

This is what the UK is now asking for, however, but Cook is clear that strong encryption is for the benefit of all. "To protect people who use any products, you have to encrypt," Cook told the Telegraph. "You can just look around and see all the data breaches that are going on. These things are becoming more frequent. They can not only result in privacy breaches but also security issues. We believe very strongly in end to end encryption and no back doors." He added that data breaches had real human costs, affecting people's finances, psychology, and health.

Cook's comments have been echoed by other prominent figures in the technology industry including the United Nations' special rapporteur on privacy, Joseph Cannataci. According to a report from Wired UK, Cannataci recently described the Investigatory Powers Bill as "worse than scary," adding that UK MPs had led an "orchestrated" media campaign to mislead the public, and that the bill proved that "mass surveillance is alive and well."