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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