AT&T CEO says US encryption policy is up to Congress, not Apple

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US government policies on device encryption should be decided by the public and Congress, not companies like Apple, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said in an interview at the World Economic Forum being held this week in Davos, Switzerland.




"I don't think it is Silicon Valley's decision to make about whether encryption is the right thing to do," Stephenson commented to the Wall Street Journal. I understand [Apple CEO] Tim Cook's decision, but I don't think it's his decision to make."

Cook has become one of the strongest corporate backers of encryption, arguing against demands from some in the U.S. government -- including FBI director James Comey -- for legally-mandated backdoors. Such gaps can make it possible to retrieve important evidence against criminals and terrorists. Cook's position, however, has been that backdoors simply make it easier for hackers, criminals, and spy agencies to steal data or launch attacks.

Earlier this month U.S. President Barack Obama said that government agencies have a legitimate need to sometimes bypass encryption, while respecting the importance of personal privacy.

The full-disk encryption in iOS 8 and 9 is so tough that Apple claims even it can't unlock a device, with or without a warrant. Later versions of Android can be similarly locked down.

In the interview, Stephenson also protested the focus on AT&T in the privacy debate. The company was one of the first to allow the National Security Agency to tap metadata on a mass scale, cooperating closely with the organization to test and install surveillance systems, and even facilitate a court order the NSA wanted to tap Internet chatter at the United Nations in New York City.

"It is silliness to say there's some kind of conspiracy between the U.S. government and AT&T," he said, reiterating the company's claim that it only hands over information when served with a warrant or other court order.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 73
    maestro64maestro64 Posts: 4,656member
    AT&T is a government regulate Telco as such they have to comply with Fed Telecom Laws and regulations. He just upset they years ago they were force to allow the government back door access into their communications systems. Since they were regulated they had no choice but to comply at the tie. They already let the cat out of the back and now they want Apple to let their cat out as week. Yes the government and police need a warrant to wire tap your phone, but they no longer have to call up the phone company to perform the tap, once they have the warranty they can log into the phone switches and begin listening in.
    edited January 2016 anantksundaramanton zuykovlongpathsergioz
  • Reply 2 of 73
    Are they willing and ready to take full responsibility for any At&t iPhone user breach caused by his support of back doors? My guess is no. 
    lostkiwibrakkenlongpath
  • Reply 3 of 73
    ktappektappe Posts: 770member
    He is quite wrong. It is a decision for the courts, specifically SCOTUS, on whether it is a violation of the 4th Amendment for the government to be able to search and seize your communications. The government mandating all phones be unencrypted is directly analogous to it mandating all house front doors be kept unlocked; nobody would put up with that, nor should they put up with this. Stephenson is wrong about it being a decision for the people; if the people all wanted something else that was unconstitutional, such as mandated prayer in schools or slavery, they wouldn't get those either. The point of laws in general and the Constitution in particular, is not to cowtow to the whim of the masses, but to protect the rights of oppressed minority.
    lostkiwislprescottyoyo2222tenlywetlanderanton zuykovbrakkenlongpathsergioz
  • Reply 4 of 73
    screw. him. our rights, such as the right to privacy, are assumed to exist and are only recognized by the government, not granted. 

    how do these bonehead stuffed shirts get to be among the corporate-America elite??
    edited January 2016 SpamSandwichbloggerblogtallest skillostkiwiyoyo2222anantksundaramsuddenly newtonwetlandersergioz
  • Reply 5 of 73
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 7,304member
    While Apple’s motives and ethics may be pure they will certainly lose this conflict. Apple will not be able to resist the power and force of the U.S. government in this matter. If the government mandates backdoors through legislation that passes constitutional muster (as determined by the SCOTUS) Apple, along with Google’s Android will comply or cease to exist. And I’m damned sure Apple already provides backdoors to the Chinese Communist government or they wouldn’t be selling iPhones in China right now. 

    Rant and rave all you want to about privacy and security. You may be right but this is the REAL world we live in.
    edited January 2016 gatorguy
  • Reply 6 of 73
    normmnormm Posts: 575member
    In a sane world, we would only have to point out that criminals can install (using Xcode) or sideload (via corporate app store or jailbreaking) any apps they like with uncompromized encryption.  Apple can't prevent this.  So we lose our privacy, and make our devices vulnerable, FOR NOTHING.

    wetlanderaaarrrggghlongpathsergiozmontrosemacs
  • Reply 7 of 73
    I agree with Nola. Screw Stephenson. Our rights are inherent and the Constitution is there to PROTECT our individual rights.
    bloggerblogtallest skilanantksundarammacwiselongpathsergioznolamacguy
  • Reply 8 of 73
    jfc1138jfc1138 Posts: 3,090member
    lkrupp said:
    While Apple’s motives and ethics may be pure they will certainly lose this conflict. Apple will not be able to resist the power and force of the U.S. government in this matter. If the government mandates backdoors through legislation that passes constitutional muster (as determined by the SCOTUS) Apple, along with Google’s Android will comply or cease to exist. And I’m damned sure Apple already provides backdoors to the Chinese Communist government or they wouldn’t be selling iPhones in China right now. 

    Rant and rave all you want to about privacy and security. You may be right but this is the REAL world we live in.
    Cease to exist? Nah. Just make a lamed non-secure version for the United States just like they do various radios for various nation's systems. The phone data isn't the real issue for real totalitarian systems: they want the calls themselves and THOSE aren't protected by no password. That's what AT&T bent over for. All the Patriot Act, FISA, NSA sweeps. Big Government doesn't want your cloud photos, they want your transmitted communications, who you talked to from where to where and when etc. The selfies of your dinner last night can rest easy.

    And that's a rather big "if".
    edited January 2016
  • Reply 9 of 73
    It seems like Apple could require that all password unlock codes be held by Apple, so when the gov't has a legal right to access the device via a court order, Apple could hand over that password to comply with the legal requirements. This way we have full encryption for security against hackers and Apple carries the responsibility and protection of our 4th amendment right while keeping gov't without a direct and broad capability to access as they choose... the main problem with the a backdoor. 

    And all those codes held by Apple could always be offline...

    It's the same approach I believe could solve the deadlock with gun registration: hold the companies that make the guns responsible (they do have some bit of vested interest in making their customers happy) to follow through with background checks, have full documentation on the entire supply chain for the weapon and where it is, and only release the information when the gov't gets a court order. But for it to work, the gov't would need some assurances of oversight that the companies are following the rules. This oversight would not show any relationship be individual identity and guns owned, but the production path from raw materials to final finished product. This would also have the affect of making sure a gun company doesn't manufactured non-serial numbered guns out the back door to cartels or others in need or desire of guns. There are many more details that are relevant, but the basic gist is to find a path between direct gov't access and no gov't access or accountability. 


  • Reply 10 of 73
    jfc1138jfc1138 Posts: 3,090member

    ktappe said:
    He is quite wrong. It is a decision for the courts, specifically SCOTUS, on whether it is a violation of the 4th Amendment for the government to be able to search and seize your communications. The government mandating all phones be unencrypted is directly analogous to it mandating all house front doors be kept unlocked; nobody would put up with that, nor should they put up with this. Stephenson is wrong about it being a decision for the people; if the people all wanted something else that was unconstitutional, such as mandated prayer in schools or slavery, they wouldn't get those either. The point of laws in general and the Constitution in particular, is not to cowtow to the whim of the masses, but to protect the rights of oppressed minority.
    Not really a mandate of unlocked doors, the 4th specifies a warrant, not no-access ever and the 14th reinforces due-process guarantees..
    "Amendment IV

    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

    Where the argument might rest is government's rather naive assumption that were a "backdoor" to be included that only they would ever posses a key whose use would be regulated, perhaps, by a 4th amendment compliant warrant.

    edited January 2016
  • Reply 11 of 73
    ktappe said:
    The point of laws in general and the Constitution in particular, is… …to protect the rights of oppressed minority.
    Fucking lol, where on Earth do you get that?
    redraider11
  • Reply 12 of 73
    It's cute to see how politicians* believe that Americans still think that Congress somehow represents the people. If we don't stand up for our own rights, no one will...
    I don't often agree with Tim, but I do on this one

    * Politicians and AT&T's CEO. Thanks jfc
    edited January 2016 lostkiwimacwise
  • Reply 13 of 73
    I would agree if Congess were actually an organ of the people and not a parrot for big money. 
    lostkiwilatifbp
  • Reply 14 of 73
    jfc1138jfc1138 Posts: 3,090member
    It's cute to see how politicians believe that Americans still think that Congress somehow represents the people. If we don't stand up for our own rights, no one will...
    I don't often agree with Tim, but I do on this one
    The AT&T CEO isn't a politician, which is what makes it even sadder.
    lostkiwilatifbp
  • Reply 15 of 73
    rob53rob53 Posts: 2,084member
    lkrupp said:
    While Apple’s motives and ethics may be pure they will certainly lose this conflict. Apple will not be able to resist the power and force of the U.S. government in this matter. If the government mandates backdoors through legislation that passes constitutional muster (as determined by the SCOTUS) Apple, along with Google’s Android will comply or cease to exist. And I’m damned sure Apple already provides backdoors to the Chinese Communist government or they wouldn’t be selling iPhones in China right now. 

    Rant and rave all you want to about privacy and security. You may be right but this is the REAL world we live in.
    It depends on which export-controlled encryption algorithms Apple uses to secure iOS and whether the US has an agreement with China allowing them to use them. If there isn't an agreement and the encryption algorithms are not allowed to be in specific countries, then there's no need for a backdoor. I'm also tired with people who won't allow China the opportunity to change. At this moment, I'm more afraid of US government agencies spying and hacking our systems than I am about the Chinese. With this in mind, do you have any valid information that supports your claim that Apple is creating a special Chinese version of iOS because that's the only way there could be a backdoor inserted in iOS without lots of people knowing about it.
    latifbpmacwise
  • Reply 16 of 73
    dws-2dws-2 Posts: 238member
    So the only question I have is how encryption backdoors help ATT make more money.
  • Reply 17 of 73
    steven n.steven n. Posts: 1,123member
    ktappe said:
    The point of laws in general and the Constitution in particular, is… …to protect the rights of oppressed minority.
    Fucking lol, where on Earth do you get that?
    He read the bill of rights and other amendments. 
    macwise
  • Reply 18 of 73
    metrixmetrix Posts: 253member
    I would rather Apple shut its doors if they are going to be forced to allow government access to everyones phones. Our government doesn't deserve the tax money they are getting from Apple! 
    latifbptallest skilwetlandermacwisecnocbui
  • Reply 20 of 73
    genovelle said:
    Are they willing and ready to take full responsibility for any At&t iPhone user breach caused by his support of back doors? My guess is no. 
    Not that the fools in the media will ever ask a smart follow up question such as that one.....
    brakken
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