Tim Cook: UK crypto backdoors would lead to 'dire consequences'

Weakening encryption will only hurt the ‘good people’

backdoor_648. Pic via Shutterstock

IPB Apple boss Tim Cook has once again warned of what he says would be the "dire consequences" of opening up backdoors to allow spies to access our data.

He said it would be wrong for the UK government's latest super-spy bid – the draft Investigatory Powers Bill, which landed in Parliament last week – to weaken cryptography.

Cook was speaking to the Daily Telegraph during a visit to London on Monday.

“It’s not the case that encryption is a rare thing that only two or three rich companies own and you can regulate them in some way. Encryption is widely available," he told the newspaper.

"It may make someone feel good for a moment but it’s not really of benefit. If you halt or weaken encryption, the people you hurt are not the folks that want to do bad things. It’s the good people. The other people know where to go,” Cook added.

The Apple boss reiterated previous comments he has made about end-to-end encryption, by saying that his company was opposed to backdoors.

He said: "We don't think people want us to read their messages. We don't feel we have the right to read their emails."

This isn't the first time Cook has expressed concerns about the idea of allowing g-men to access Apple servers. In a minor tweak to Apple's privacy policy back in September 2014, for example, Cook told its customers:

We have never worked with any government agency from any country to create a backdoor in any of our products or services. We have also never allowed access to our servers. And we never will.

On Monday, Cook pointed out that data breaches were "becoming more frequent", while failing to note that Apple's own iCloud servers had been ransacked late last year.

What does the proposed snooping law say about encryption?

The Tory government's draft IPB (PDF) only mentions the word "encryption" four times. Its first airing comes on page 16 under the heading "Equipment Interference" by stating:

Equipment interference plays an important role in mitigating the loss of intelligence that may no longer be obtained through other techniques, such as interception, as a result of sophisticated encryption.

It can sometimes be the only method by which to acquire the data. The armed forces use this technique in some situations to gather data in support of military operations.

Reading between the lines, one could easily argue that "sophisticated encryption" means encryption that actually works.

The next mention comes under the section entitled "obligations on communications service providers" (page 29), in which it is noted that the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) requires comms service providers to "maintain permanent interception capabilities, including maintaining the ability to remove any encryption applied by the CSP to whom the notice relates".

It goes on to state:

The draft Bill will not impose any additional requirements in relation to encryption over and above the existing obligations in RIPA.

The final use of the word "encryption" comes on page 167 under the "oversight arrangements" section of the draft bill. It says the investigatory powers commissioner would, among other things, be required to keep the following under review:

The exercise of functions by virtue of Part 2 or 3 of the RIPA (surveillance, covert human intelligence sources and investigation of electronic data protected by encryption, etc.)

Later today, MPs on the science and technology committee will explore the tech issues arising from the draft Investigatory Powers Bill during a one-off evidence session. ®

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