Apple CEO Tim Cook said on Monday that the government should deescalate its battle with the tech company over iPhone encryption and shift the debate over national security and privacy to Capitol Hill.
Cook sent an email to Apple (AAPL) employees, and Apple published a lengthly Q&A that provided more information about the company’s ongoing dispute with the FBI over a court order that instructed Apple to weaken the security on the iPhone of Syed Farook, one of the shooters responsible for the rampage in San Bernardino, Calif. last year.
Cook said the government should withdraw its demands and instead “form a commission or other panel of experts on intelligence, technology, and civil liberties, to discuss the implications for law enforcement, national security, privacy, and personal freedom.” Apple would “gladly participate” in such a forum.
Apple last week refused to cooperate with the court order to unlock the gunman’s phone, sparking a debate that pits national security against Americans’ privacy. Cook reiterated his rationale for that decision in the letter Monday. “This case is about much more than a single phone or a single investigation, so when we received the government’s order we knew we had to speak out,” he wrote. “At stake is the data security of hundreds of millions of law-abiding people, and setting a dangerous precedent that threatens everyone’s civil liberties.”
Cook also painted the decision as one that resonated with everyday Americans. “Over the past week I’ve received messages from thousands of people in all 50 states, and the overwhelming majority are writing to voice their strong support,” he said. (Cook does have one notable detractor: Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump last week called for a boycott of all Apple products until the company unlocked the shooter’s phone.)
In a court filing on Friday, the Justice Department derided Apple’s failure to cooperate as little more than a “marketing strategy.”
In a statement on Sunday, FBI director James Comey emphasized what he saw as the narrow scope of the agency’s battle with Apple. “The San Bernardino litigation isn’t about trying to set a precedent or send any kind of message. It is about the victims and justice,” he said. “We simply want the chance, with a search warrant, to try to guess the terrorist’s passcode without the phone essentially self-destructing and without it taking a decade to guess correctly. That’s it.”
While Comey asked people to “stop saying the world is ending,” he acknowledged that the Apple case highlights “awesome” new technology that’s created a serious tension between privacy and safety. He said that tension will eventually be resolved “by the American people deciding how we want to govern ourselves in a world we have never seen before.”
Apple has until Friday to file a response to file a formal response opposing last week’s court order.