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Insights: What's More Important, Privacy or National Security?

November 16, 2015 00:00 AM UTC
- Updated May 06, 2020 17:01 PM UTC

Fortune's Andrew Nusca and Erin Griffith debate Apple's policy to protect users' personal data in the wake of the Paris attacks. (November 2015)

The recent terrorist attacks in Paris have many people questioning Apple's stance on privacy. Erin, is Tim Cook right? I think he is. And it's difficult to say that in light of what happened this weekend, but I think it is still important for us to look at Apple really getting out there in front of the privacy debate as opposed to some of their competitors like Facebook and Google. Apple doesn't actually use your data to monetize you with ads. They've taken this sort of bold step of encrypting all of your messages. So even if the government goes to Apple and says, we want Erin's data, they can't give it to them because they don't have access to it. And I think for the average person that puts a lot of trust in Apple, which means that their data is actually safe. Well, the problem with that is that it also gives a lot of cover to terrorists. I mean, this is a very challenging issue. New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton recently told Politico, you know, all of these iPhones are basically off the grid to law enforcement. And that's a real problem when we're increasingly living our lives on smartphones. And Apple has a huge market share there. I mean, I think it just raises the bar for what the government has to do in order to get our permission to look at our lives that are being increasingly lived online. I mean, just because it's all there, doesn't mean that they should automatically have access to it. This is pretty common in times of horrible tragedies for us to say, oh my god, do anything you can to prevent this. Take all of our data. And this happened after 9/11 with the Patriot Act. And now we're looking back and thinking, maybe that was a little bit of an overstep. And so I think now we should be really careful to not overstep again. While I agree with you, there are definitely been a lot of oversteps. You know, the recent cybersecurity legislation, CISA, is also top of mind with this, but at the same time, are we basically raising the bar so high that we're preventing law enforcement from doing anything about these attacks. I don't think that the bar is too high right now at all. And also, I think that you have to look at all the times that we have sort of allowed the government to come in and do a lot of spying and surveillance. Has it actually work? And I think there's a lot of data that shows both sides of that. And so I think that we should really question exactly what we're allowing the government to do. That's a fair point.