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AT&T's CEO says Tim Cook shouldn't have any say in encryption debate

AT&T's CEO says Tim Cook shouldn't have any say in encryption debate

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AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson doesn't think Apple CEO Tim Cook should be making long-term decisions around encryption that could ripple across the technology industry. "I don’t think it is Silicon Valley’s decision to make about whether encryption is the right thing to do," he told The Wall Street Journal in an interview on Wednesday. "I understand Tim Cook’s decision, but I don’t think it’s his decision to make," said Stephenson. "I personally think that this is an issue that should be decided by the American people and Congress, not by companies."

"I don't think it's his decision to make."

Cook has repeatedly argued there's no feasible way for Apple to create a "backdoor" that would help law enforcement circumvent the encryption on iPhones that protects consumer data, since such an opening could also be exploited by malicious users.

But that hasn't stopped many politicians from urging Apple to do more; the company has routinely come up during recent presidential debates whenever the subject turns to privacy and encryption. Both GOP and Democrat candidates have called for leading Silicon Valley companies to better assist the government and law agencies in fighting terrorism. Jeb Bush, in particular, was questioned on what he would do — once president — if Cook doesn't change his mind. "You got to keep asking," he said. "You've got to keep asking because this is a hugely important issue." But the argument that terrorists are increasingly using encryption to "go dark" and avoid detection is pretty badly flawed.

Stephenson also touched on his company's undesirable link with the NSA's mass snooping efforts, suggesting that AT&T has unfairly been singled out. "It is silliness to say there’s some kind of conspiracy between the US government and AT&T," he said. But documents leaked by Edward Snowden portray the relationship between AT&T and the government as rather cozy; AT&T is credited as being "highly collaborative" and has installed far more surveillance equipment than its fellow US wireless carriers. The government has paid AT&T millions of dollars in return. AT&T's official stance is that it only hands over customer data when presented with a court order "or other mandatory process" — and in cases where a person’s life is in imminent danger.