AT&T CEO says Apple Shouldn’t Decide Encryption Standards

by Matt Klassen on January 26, 2016

2013-07-10-image-2Fast friends often become even faster enemies, particularly when money is on the line, so it’s really no surprise that AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson has gone public with his criticism of his company’s once close partner Apple and its role in the ongoing smartphone encryption debate; encryption, it should be noted, that threatens to not only leave governments and law enforcement agencies in the dark, but carriers too.

“I don’t think it is Silicon Valley’s decision to make about whether encryption is the right thing to do,” Stephenson told The Wall Street Journal in an interview on Wednesday. “I understand Tim Cook’s decision, but I don’t think it’s his decision to make,” said Stephenson. “I personally think that this is an issue that should be decided by the American people and Congress, not by companies.”

According to Stephenson, not only should Apple and its fellow tech cohorts not be allowed to make decisions regarding encryption standards, they shouldn’t even have a seat at the table regarding this debate. Instead such important decisions about privacy, data collection, and smartphone security should be made by the American public and their duly elected officials; two groups, some might argue, the least qualified for the task.

Stephenson’s criticism comes as part of a growing backlash against current encryption security standards employed by Apple and other such tech giants, encryption that is virtually inaccessible by even the most savvy law enforcement agencies. The problem for carriers is that as encryption standards develop and are increasingly deployed by mobile users, the data traffic across networks will effectively go ‘dark,’ inaccessible by the carriers who are still desperately trying to find ways to monetize that information for increased profit.

Now that’s not to say that Stephenson is wrong in his criticism, as I would agree that the least appropriate people to be making decisions about encryption and security standards are those who stand to benefit (or lose) the most, Apple being chief among them. But again, don’t think that Stephenson’s comments are coming from a place of concern for the public good or for national security, as all he’s worried about is not being able to collect hordes of data on his company’s millions of customers that can be packaged and sold to the highest bidder.

But that does nevertheless bring us back around to the conversation at hand, the personal privacy vs. national security debate. Apple has said nothing in regards to Stephenson’s comments, save reiterating its position that if it did create backdoors into its encryption protocols, those would be accessible by all sorts of people, not just law enforcement, and the company simply isn’t willing to compromise its level of security, given that its encryption has helped the company make billions of dollars over the last few years.

As I mentioned though, if there’s one thing Congress and the American people have demonstrated time and again, it’s that neither group knows enough, generally speaking, about such issues to truly be able to give an informed opinion about them, particularly given the penchant of both to be swayed by aggressive lobbying, savvy marketing, and outright lies (which is likely why AT&T insists on having those groups make the decisions in the first place. It’s hard to influence Apple).

There’s no denying that the encryption debate is difficult to parse, particularly given the fact that both sides are blowing significant amounts of hot air. It’s a debate built on lies and fear, and it’s almost impossible to dig down to the real issues at stake. All I know is that every time I hear someone like Stephenson take a strong stance on a confusing and contentious issue, my only question is, “what do they have to gain?”

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Written by: Matt Klassen. Follow by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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