In an interview with ABC News on Wednesday, Apple CEO Tim Cook spoke out about the tech company's ongoing privacy fight with the U.S. government, saying the FBI was essentially asking Apple to create "the software equivalent of cancer."
"This case is not about one phone," Cook told anchor David Muir. "This case is about the future. What is at stake here is, can the government compel Apple to write software that we believe would make hundreds of millions of customers vulnerable around the world, including the U.S."
The interview aired just before Apple's February 26 deadline to respond to the government's order.
With the help of a federal judge, the FBI is asking Apple to break into the iPhone of one of the suspected shooters in last year's attack in San Bernardino, California. The tech company has resisted the order, saying that creating that software would set a dangerous precedent that threatens users' privacy rights and expands government authority.
"We think [the software is] bad news to write," Cook said on Wednesday. "We would never write it, we have never written it, and that is what is at stake here.... If a court compels Apple to write this piece of software, to place a backdoor in the iPhone, we believe it does put hundreds of millions of customers at risk."
If a court can ask us to write this piece of software, think about what else they could ask us to write. Maybe it’s an operating system for surveillance. Maybe it’s the ability for law enforcement to turn on the camera. I mean, I don’t know where this stops. But I do know this is not what should be happening in this country. This is not what should be happening in America. If there should be a law that compels us to do it, it should be passed out in the open, and the people of America should get a voice in that. The right place for that debate to occur is in Congress.
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As Common Dreams has previously written, the case has already entered slippery slope territory, as the Justice Department is reportedly looking to use backdoor software in about a dozen other undisclosed cases around the country.
Apple has vowed to fight the order all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Theodore J. Boutros, one of the tech company's attorneys in the case, told the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday that the defense will argue the order violates Apple's free speech rights.
"The government here is trying to use this statute from 1789 in a way that it has never been used before. They are seeking a court order to compel Apple to write new software, to compel speech," Boutrous told the Times. "It is not appropriate for the government to obtain through the courts what they couldn’t get through the legislative process."
Privacy advocates have rallied around the tech company this week, staging demonstrations outside of Apple stores throughout the country in actions organized by the digital rights group Fight for the Future.
"People are rallying at Apple stores because what the FBI is demanding here will make all of us less safe, not more safe," the group's campaign director Evan Greer said in a press release. "Their unconstitutional attack on our digital security could put millions of people in danger, so we’re giving those people a way to get their voices heard."
Watch Cook's interview below: