Apple-FBI row is just one example of 'hourly friction' between digital world and law, says Box CEO

Box chief exec Aaron Levie says the case of the encrypted iPhone shows that 'a much broader conversation' is required surrounding outdated government legislation around the digital economy.
Written by Danny Palmer, Senior Writer

Box's Aaron Levie came out strongly in support of Tim Cook and Apple in its encryption battle with the FBI.

Image: Box

Apple's recent battle with the FBI over encryption is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to difficulties faced by technology firms as they attempt to operate in a system where outdated legislation means there's friction "on an hourly basis" between government laws and the digital world, Box CEO Aaron Levie has claimed.

Levie made the comments while speaking to reporters at the Box World Tour in London, where the company launched Box Zones, an effort to store data locally across Europe and Asia with Amazon Web Services and IBM. Regulations often require customers to store data in the same country in which it's accessed, which can make it impossible to use cloud services.

Levie publically offered backing to Tim Cook during Apple's fight with the FBI, in which the US feds wanted Apple to unlock the iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters, a request Apple refused. The FBI later said it had managed to access the encrypted iPhone without Apple's help.

"The way the government approached trying to get Apple to open up the device, we felt was a particularly worrisome way of doing that. It would be very precedent-setting, using a very, very outdated law that we didn't think was going to settle a strong approach for the long run," he said.

Levie explained that the iPhone case was just one example of one of the wider challenges of "dealing with a lot of collision between legacy regulation and the digital world that we're very clearly entering".

Levie said: "The way that any modern government that's emerged in the last one hundred, two hundred years operated was to regulate the physical world, physical boundaries and the limitations of the physical world.

"But in a digital world, what we know is that you don't have boundaries; AirBnB doesn't have boundaries and shouldn't necessarily have boundaries," he said.

The proliferation of smartphones -- and the data they generate for global companies -- is a further example of how older legislation can't currently match up with digital technology, and that's creating more and more problems, Levie claimed.

"With a few billion people having smartphones and being on the internet, we have a different sort of mobile space we all operate and do business in. So what is the meaning of a local law in a global cyberspace? I think we're running into that friction, probably on an hourly basis, between our laws and the digital world," he said.

The answer, Levie said, is there needs to be a "much broader conversation" about the role digital technology -- and the organisations behind the technology -- in the modern world; the debate can't just be based around one incident at a time, as with the Apple vs. FBI case.

"We need to have a proper conversation around, 'what should a technology company be responsible for?', and 'do we want technology companies to be creating those vulnerabilities and backdoors in their technology?', or 'do we want to incentivise technology companies to build the most secure technology possible?'," said Levie.

"We at least need to make sure those expectations are in line with the law and we don't have this weird fracture that is just occasionally exploited. That's where our view is, 'let's take a step back, because we need to understand the long-term approach here and not set a precedent off one device'," he said.

Read more about Apple, the FBI, encryption and Box

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