Tim Cook, Apple CEO took over the press conference about the legal fallout with the FBI, which is one of the most controversial fights with the U.S. government. The open letter written by the CEO, which conveyed that Apple was not ready to oblige FBI’s request brings the company under immense need to gather s much good PR for itself.
“I’m not sure I’ve ever done an interview in the office,” Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, admitted at the very beginning of an interview that aired Wednesday night with ABC’s David Muir about the tech company’s high-stakes legal dispute against the FBI. “Well,” Muir replied, “I know this is an important issue.”
The decision to give millions of Americans an unprecedented glimpse into Cook’s personal office, followed by the CEO’s forceful responses to one polarizing interview question after another, caps off what has been an unusual and extraordinary weeklong public relations push.
Apple, accustomed to promoting shiny products beloved by millions, is now desperately trying to promote a nuanced principle by staging an extremely controversial fight with the U.S. government. And for the first time in years, Apple seems anything but guaranteed to win.
The technology giant has refused a court order to assist the FBI by building custom software that could unlock an iPhone 5c belonging to one of the gunmen behind the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California last year.
Apple and Cook have argued it could set a “dangerous” precedent, which diminishes our the privacy we’ve come to expect from our devices.
Critics, of which there are many, argue Apple’s position does a disservice to the victims of the shooting and potentially makes citizens less safe by limiting just how much relevant data law authorities can access in difficult national security cases like this.
While many in the tech community have slowly stood behind Apple, the general public remains fiercely divided on the issue, according to recent surveys.
“This is a new frontier for Apple,” says Allen Adamson, former chairman of Landor Associates and a consultant to brands in volatile situations. “Before it was about what they did and how they did it, but this is the first time they are really leaning in to what they stand for.”
“The challenge,” he added, “is that this is a hugely polarizing issue. No matter which side Apple stands on, it’s going to upset large chunks of the population.”
Apple vs. the F.B.I. is quickly becoming a fight only a lawyer could love.
In case you missed it, investigators want Apple’s help breaking into an iPhone that belonged to one of the attackers in the December mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif. Apple says no way, since it would have to create new software to do this and would essentially be hacking its own products.
The basis of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s demand is a 1789 law called the All Writs Act. The government has used this very old law in the past to obtain customer information from Apple, but the company contended in a court filing Thursday that “Congress has never authorized judges to compel innocent third parties to provide decryption services to the F.B.I.”
If you do not find discussions of 1789 law all that fascinating, there is also a Bill of Rights discussion. Apple contends that its First and Fifth Amendment rights are being violated by a court order supporting the F.B.I.
How’s that? Apple says that courts often consider software code to be speech under the protection of the First Amendment, and compelling Apple to write code would amount to compelling speech. Also, Apple says last week’s court order amounts to “arbitrary deprivation of [its] liberty by government.” That’s covered in the Fifth Amendment.
Next, a number of tech companies are expected to file court briefs in support of Apple.
So fasten your seatbelts. Silicon Valley — which has lots of money and lawyers — is throwing down with the Justice Department, which has lots of clout and lawyers.
It is not clear yet if the industry’s lobbyists have been deployed en masse to influence lawmakers on Capitol Hill.