​Apple CEO Tim Cook vs NSA: Good guys shouldn't get their own backdoors

The NSA still wants backdoors to bypass encryption - but Apple's CEO Tim Cook maintains that system just won't do.

Apple CEO Tim Cook: Nobody should have to decide privacy and security. Image: Getty Images

Apple chief executive Tim Cook and the US National Security Agency's director admiral are no closer to consensus on encryption, against a backdrop of the White House last week apparently backing away from a plan to make backdoors to encryption mandatory.

On Monday, NSA Director Admiral Michael Rogers told a conference he was worried that the so-called Islamic State could soon view cyberattacks as a "weapons system" and that such an attack on critical infrastructure was inevitable.

While he conceded "strong encryption" was good, he also argued that there needed to be a trade-off between privacy and national security.

"Security, encryption: good. The ability to generate insights as to criminal behavior and threats to our nation's security, also good," he was quoted by Bloomberg as saying on stage at the Wall Street Journal Digital Live conference.

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Rogers spoke to the conference ahead of an appearance by Apple's Cook. The NSA director's comments also come a week after the Obama administration reportedly backed off a plan to require tech companies, such as Apple, Google, and Microsoft, to provide intelligence and law-enforcement agencies with software backdoors to bypass strong encryption.

The White House concluded that giving a backdoor to US agencies could leave devices open to exploitation by China, Russia, cybercriminals, and terrorists, according to the New York Times.

Cook outlined similar thinking during his interview at the conference. "You can't have a backdoor in the software because you can't have a backdoor that's only for the good guys," he said.

Cook also said there shouldn't be a trade-off between privacy and national security.

"Nobody should have to decide privacy and security. We should be smart enough to do both," he said.

Debate over encryption and backdoors intensified following Apple's release of iOS 8, which Apple said made it technically impossible to respond to government warrants for the extraction of data from devices running iOS 8, since it doesn't hold the key to bypass the passcode. Its use of end-to-end encryption for iMessage has also frustrated law enforcement.

Google had a false start on requiring full device encryption in Android Lollipop handsets but with the just-released Marshmallow, it has now reintroduced the requirement.

US think-tank Information Technology & Innovation Foundation in June estimated that concerns over US surveillance could cost the US $35bn by 2016 due to foreign firms ditching US tech companies.

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