Apple CEO Tim Cook says the company has been cooperating with the UK government following a string of terrorist attacks in the country. The news that Apple is assisting UK law enforcement is not surprising, but it comes at a pivotal time. Prime Minister Theresa May has been demanding new digital regulations to combat extremism following a terrorist attack in London last weekend, and Apple has previously been criticized by the UK government for its support of end-to-end encryption.
Speaking to Bloomberg, Cook said: “We’ve been cooperating with the UK government not only in law enforcement matters, but on some of the attacks — and I can’t speak in detail about that.”
Cook’s comments implied that the status quo of digital surveillance was sufficient for investigations. He said that Apple responded promptly to all requests for data from the police (when, he added, “They’ve gone through the lawful process”) and added that he hoped law enforcement “would say that we’ve been cooperating well.”
Cook said that, despite objections by the UK government to the use of end-to-end encryption in apps like iMessage and WhatsApp, there was lots of information tech companies could share in the form of metadata. This does not include the content of messages, but the context — when they were sent, from where, and to who. “Metadata, if you’re putting together a profile, is very important,” said Cook.
Three terrorist attacks in the last three months have resurfaced the issue of online surveillance and regulation in the UK. The current Conservative government has consistently demanded new powers in this domain, and last year introduced legislation that would — hypothetically — allow it to force companies to break encryption protocols. However, the political costs of doing so might be steep, and at this point both government and industry simply seem to be talking up their respective positions. After this week’s UK general election is over, though, the conversation is bound to move forward.